By Tsholofelo Lephuthing
Last year I took a vow to read more books authored by black individuals and more specifically black females. So when I visited my cousin and found on his study table, his set novel for grade 12, my stars aligned. There, on table, was a book called Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga. This is a book I have always wanted to read and this is exactly what I did.
The books starts off with an eerie and ‘eyebrow raising’ two lines: “I was was not sorry my brother died. Nor am I apologizing for my callousness, as you may by define, lack of feeling”. This is a bold opening that can only insight interest as to why the narrator feels this way. Nervous Conditions tells the story of a young girl called Tambu and her upbringing in pre-Independent Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe) during the 1960s and 1970s. It tells the story of the desire and quest of a young girl to educate herself and the obstacles she came across trying to make this a reality.
Growing up, Tambu was often hindered by her parents and mostly the men in her life who felt that education should not be wasted on a women as women could not cook their books. Her parents were reluctant to pay money for her education and rather sent her brother to a mission school that her educated uncle was headmaster. When her brother Nhamo abruptly dies whilst traveling back home from the school, Tambu finally gets the opportunity to go to the mission school.. Here Tambu gets introduced to a more Western way of living and a new lifestyle that she was not used to back home. Her adventures living with her uncle is what Tambu describes as “reincarnation” and often this stay with her uncle is not easy.
This book does an incredible job of highlighting the different gender roles that women had in society back then and also society today. The author does an incredible job of contrasting the different women in the novel. Firstly her aunt who has a Masters degree finds herself very complacent to her husband and playing the role of wife and mother more than the worldly woman she inspires to be. This often frustrates her but she rarely speaks out about it. Then you have Tambu’s cousin Nyasha, who lived in the United Kingdom with her parents whilst they were studying. Nyasha has become quite anglicized and has lost some of her Shona and this often places a barrier between her and Tambu. She is very headstrong and is often frustrated with her mom with regards to her complacency towards her father. There is also Lucia, Tambu’s aunt whom is uneducated but is highly feisty, fiercely independent and not afraid to speak what is on her mind. The beauty is in showcasing the different types of women and the different journeys the women walk. In particular, the walk Tambu journeys, her self-discovery and just going back home a more headstrong and independent female. This brings about issues with her family as her mom feels she’s venturing into a woman that she does not recognize nor the woman she had planned for her to become.
This book not only highlights different family dynamics but it also tells the story of a young girl maturing and growing into a woman who she can be proud of. This book tells the story of a girl who, like most of us, finds herself constantly challenging the roles that are expected of her from birth and wanting so much more than the cards dealt for her. It tells the story of a black female trying to find her place in the world that is constantly telling her she is not worth much. This journey for most is painfully beautiful.
This book is not an easy read or a book one can read in one sitting, but Tsitsi (author) makes sure it’s an enjoyable read. Often heart wrenching in some parts with “laugh out loud” moments that are sure to lighten the mood.