Zimbabwe: Nervous Conditions Review

Title: Nervous Conditions
Author: Tsitsi Dangarembga
Genre: Historical Fiction

Blurb: This stunning first novel, set in colonial Rhodesia during the 1960s, centers on the coming of age of a teenage girl, Tambu, and her relationship with her British-educated cousin Nyasha. Tambu, who yearns to be free of the constraints of her rural village, especially the circumscribed lives of the women, thinks her dreams have come true when her wealthy uncle offers to sponsor her education. But she soon learns that the education she receives at his mission school comes with a price. At the school she meets the worldly and rebellious Nyasha, who is chafing under her father's authority. Raised in England, Nyasha is so much a stranger among her own people that she can no longer speak her native language. Tambu can only watch as her cousin, caught between two cultures, pays the full cost of alienation.

Me: Such an interesting look on women in colonized Africa, and on two girl's journeys in coming to terms with themselves and the worlds they live in. 
The Ups: To tell the truth, I am terrified by how little I know of Africa. It is always addressed as an entire continent and not in terms of individual countries, and I feel like I have this one general sense that relies heavily on stereotypes and misunderstanding. 

But I think reading books like these is helping me to understand. Tambu comes from a village in a family in which her father (who is the leader of the family) is unambitious and lazy in some aspects. Nyasha is her cousin whose father is the richest African man in their neighborhood, with more influence than most of the whites. Both are intelligent and ambitious. Even with these different backgrounds, both feel the constraint of colonization and patriarchy very heavily. 

As the book says itself in the end, this book was about women. Lucia was uneducated and shamed by her community but she stood up for herself and took charge of her own life. Tambu's mother was quieter, more submissive, one who just accepted the way it was. Nyasha's mother Maigru was more educated than most men in the world, but lost her power against her own husband. Tambu wanted to succeed and create happiness for herself by working hard to pursue the route that was in front of her. Nyasha, on the other hand, sought happiness in questioning everything that she was told. 

I think seeing everything through Tambu's eyes was interesting because at first, she seemed inferior to Nyasha. Nyasha was more exciting, fierce, unrelenting. But as the plot progresses, Nyasha finds it hard to deal with her life within a restraining patriarchy and her father constantly telling her what a girl can or can't do. 

The language was quite difficult (there were a lot of words I didn't know), but the sentence structure was simple and created a flow that was hard not to fall into. I think this plot choice was perfect in that it showed the "nervous conditions" of the girls growing up. 

The Downs: I did think the ending was a little rushed and sudden. I do know there's a sequel though, so maybe the point was to serve as an introduction to the full story. 

I also felt like the book was a little hard to digest because of its diction and the plot falling flat a little at times. I do think the hard reading is worth fighting through though, for the big picture.
"But what I didn't like was the way that all conflicts came back to the question of femaleness. Femaleness as opposed and inferior to maleness."

"I am not one of them, but I am not one of you."

Rating: 4 kisses!

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