Monday, 16 April 2018

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga + Giveaway

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga
First published in the UK by The Women's Press in 1988.

One of my WorldReads from Zimbabwe

How I got this book:
Bought the paperback from World Of Books via Amazon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository : from £6.11 (PB)
Wordery : from £6.10 (PB)
Waterstones : from £8.99 (PB)
Amazon : from £0.91 (used HB)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

A modern classic in the African literary canon and voted in the Top Ten Africa's 100 Best Books of the 20th Century, this novel brings to the politics of decolonization theory the energy of women's rights. An extraordinarily well-crafted work, this book is a work of vision. Through its deft negotiation of race, class, gender and cultural change, it dramatizes the 'nervousness' of the 'postcolonial' conditions that bedevil us still. In Tambu and the women of her family, we African women see ourselves, whether at home or displaced, doing daily battle with our changing world with a mixture of tenacity, bewilderment and grace.

"I was not sorry when my brother died. Nor am I apologising for my callousness, as you may define it, my lack of feeling. For it is not that at all. I feel many things these days, much more than I was able to feel in the days when I was young and my brother died, and there are reasons for this more than the mere consequence of age. Therefore I shall not apologise but begin by recalling the facts as I remember them that led up to my brother's death, the events that put me in a position to write this account. For though the event of my brother's passing and the events of my story cannot be separated, my story is not after all about death, but about my escape and Lucia's; about my mother's and Maiguru's entrapment; and about Nyasha's rebellion - Nyuha, far-minded and isolated, my uncle's daughter, whose rebellion may not in the end have been successful"

After such a striking first paragraph, I had high hopes for Nervous Conditions and I wasn't disappointed. First published in the 1980s, I was interested - and somewhat disappointed - to realise that a lot of the issues Dangarembga's characters face are still being written about as present day problems in novels thirty years later. Young Tambudzai is a child at the beginning of our story. She doesn't understand her mother's warning advice about her fate as a woman and instead strives to equal her spiteful brother, Nhamo. Nhamo is selected to follow in his uncle's footsteps and be educated at the Mission School. Uncle Babamukuru is the shining light of the extended family. Educated away from his family by white missionaries, he later was even able to study for five years in 1960s England, as did his wife Maiguru, and their children were partially brought up there. Babamukuru has a beautiful house, a good car and the job of Headmaster at the school. Everyone wants their children to emulate his success, but Dangarembga slowly pulls back a curtain to reveal what such Westernised success has destroyed.

Dangarembga illustrates how the culture clash of colonialism was to the extreme financial detriment of many black people unless they were the 'lucky' few chosen to live within while educational programmes and the like. In order to benefit however, those people had to forgo their traditional culture and replicate the restrictive white examples set them. What I found difficult to reconcile in my mind though was that the portrayal of black life is one of grinding poverty and constant labour, especially for the women. I often felt like yelling at the female characters to walk away and stand up for themselves, but of course - and as a couple of them discover - there is rarely anywhere to walk away to. Maiguru cannot use her academic brilliance in employment and having university degrees casts her as a loose woman. Obviously! Tambudzai might strive to equal and even surpass her brother, but what will she actually gain by that in a country where both black and white see excessive education as wasted on women.

I liked that Dangarembga doesn't attempt to offer easy solutions to her characters' predicaments. As a reader, I sometimes thought I saw an obvious solution, but I would soon realise I hadn't taken everything about a particular situation into account. I strongly felt for the women trapped in a certain traditionally proscribed existence and especially for those who had a glimpse of genuine alternatives (the niece partly raised in the UK for example) I couldn't begin to truly understand what they went (and are still going) through.

And now for the Giveaway!

Open internationally until midnight (UK time) on the 23rd April, the prize is my copy of Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga. Second-hand, yes, but still in good condition!
Entry is by was of the Gleam widget below:

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga giveaway

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Tsitsi Dangarembga / Contemporary fiction / Books from Zimbabwe


  1. Lovely review Stephanie. It saddens me to think this continues to this day.

  2. love your choices of books Stephanie! Such interesting topics! Unfortunately in my opinion the way colonialism took place in most cases [UK, Spain, Portugal, etc] is to blame for the path many countries took and that have them are still struggling as third and fourth world countries in the new millenium!

    1. Absolutely true and the more global literature I read, the more I see similar repeated themes of exploitation followed by devastation.

  3. Congrats to Shirley for winning this giveaway!