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Nervous Conditions
by Tsitsi Dangarembga

Category: Fiction / Autobiography
204 pages; ISBN: 0-931188-74-1

Rating: 10/10  (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Coletta Ollerer

Review

“I was not sorry when my brother died.” (p1) Tambudza felt no sadness when hearing of her brother’s death after years of being oppressed by him. She is a young girl struggling to escape the perimeters of her patriarchal society but she wouldn’t be able to express her feelings in that manner. She is 13. The action takes place in Rhodesia in the 1960s. Her brother Nhamo, the only boy, has been given preferential treatment by their uncle Mukamo in that he is being educated at the Mission where the Uncle is employed as headmaster. Mukamo is the achiever in a family whose other members remain uneducated and poor. Tambudza begged to be allowed to go to school but her father refused. She managed to find a way to obtain money for her fees. Then, when Nhamo became ill suddenly and died, she was given his place at the school. Where formerly Nhamo had the bright future, one that would take him away from his family homestead, now Tambudza is the favored one. She couldn’t have been happier. Her father, Jeremiah, is a lazy worthless fellow and her mother beaten down by privation and despair. They have the best home in the area where they live but food is scarce and their clothing is often rags. The house is brick with three rooms and it has a tin roof but it has none of the amenities found at Mukamo’s home at the Mission.

Mokamo and his wife, Maiguru, take their children Nyasha and Chido and go to London to study for two years. Both return with higher scholastic degrees and the children return with new ideas about how people live. Nyasha and Tambudza had always been close cousins but Nyasha has become so different that Tambudza is sad. Nonetheless she and Nyasha share a room at the mission home and they become good friends again.

Nyasha’s rebellious teenage behavior is a shock to her staid father, Mukamo. He tries to control her but cannot. In his rage he hits her. She tells him that he mustn’t hit her. He does it again. “`I told you not to hit me,’ said Nyasha, punching him in the eye.” (p115) Tambudza couldn’t ignore the fact that Nyasha had no respect for her father when she should have had lots of it. “But what I (Tambudza) didn’t like was the way all the conflicts came back to this question of femaleness. Femaleness as opposed and inferior to maleness.” (p116) Tambudza admired Nyasha for standing up to her father and forgiving herself for it. “I (Tambudza) was quite sure that had I been the one to strike my father I would have done as Mukamo threatened and hanged myself.” (p119)

Lucia is the sister of Tambudza’s mother. She is an unusual female figure in that she stands up to the men. She manages to extricate herself from male dominance by getting herself a job at the mission and even taking some of the classes offered there.

Maiguru becomes fed up with her role in the extended family and walks out on Mokamo. He pretends not to care but rushes to bring her back when he discovers her whereabouts. Even with her advanced degrees she had no place to go in that male-dominated society except to her brother’s home. Nonetheless, she has won the victory and is given more authority in the marriage upon her return.

Some nuns from Sacred Heart Mission School come to test a group of children at the Protestant Mission school where Tambudza attends. She is surprised when she wins a scholarship to that more prestigious institution and is delighted to find herself a student there. Tambudza is very pleased with herself and her hopes for the future.

Nyasha is torn between rebellion and guilt and becomes very ill. Her parents are distraught and not quite sure what to do. The disease is one not seen in the African population. She is placed in a hospital and watched closely. Tambudza is confused about the turn taken in Nyasha’s life since she considered her cousin so very privileged. “I (Tambudza) would have said it was impossible for people who had everything to suffer so extremely.” (p202)

The western reader will be dismayed to see into this world of male dominance but will take pride in those women who attempt and even succeed in pulling themselves out of that societal quicksand.

 

Buy Nervous Conditions at amazon.co.uk
Buy Nervous Conditions at amazon.com

 
 

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