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Book Review– NERVOUS CONDITIONS

Hiiii people! I’m back. 

I hope you’re well. I’m not very familiar with writing expository blog posts so I’ve been extra patient with the one I’m working on which hopefully should be up by next week.
For now, it’s another book review.
I got this book as a birthday present from my friend, Chizaram, who blogs here. I judged the book by the cover and decided it should sit out on my bookshelf for a while. Ignorance.

Title: Nervous Conditions

Author: Tsitsi Dangaremgba

Publisher and publishing date: Ayebia Clark publishing Ltd UK 2004

1st published by the women’s press Ltd, UK. 1988

ISBN:978-0-9547023-3-5

I finally got around to reading it and I rejoice today, that I did. Let me just say this: there are a million good African writers out there.

I’ll start by saying this book is easy to identify with, from my perspective. I was mentally nodding as I read it. References to village life, relationship with extended family members in African countries, for instance, were absolutely familiar. It was a smooth sailing, no difficulties getting into the book. The setting of the book is in the 1970s and in Zimbabwe.

In this book, the protagonist, Tambudzai, in first person narrative addresses a person we do not know.
The language is clear and convincing. I partcularly love the author’s use of metaphor. I love the way she describes and evokes familiar feelings in the characters.
This story is about the struggles Tambudzai faces which her society classifies as being black, being poor, being illiterate, and being female.

“And these days it was worse, with the poverty of blackness on one side and the weight of womanhood on the other. Aiwa! What will help you my child, is to learn to carry your burdens with strength”

She is confronted with the walls of expectation and limitation that have been set around her.
Her brother, Nhamo, is singled out for the honour of education at the missions by their uncle. He soon changes in behaviour and dislikes the homestead and returning when on holidays. Tambu on the other hand, loves her home and begins to develop a headache when her brother is around especially since her brother, much like her father believes education isn’t for women.
Tambu, inspite of the odds, decides she will go to school. Tambudzai isn’t a person made to sit at the kitchen obeying, when she has a dream of her own. She puts in extra determination and coupled with sheer luck gets the money to go to school for SUB A and SUB B.

Opportunity comes knocking through Babamukuru, her uncle, who sponsors her to study at the missions too.
Her arrival at the missions, exposes her to other realities of life, it challenges her worldview and she is tempted, as a result, to leave things in a knot and not see the end of it.
The main characters are Tambu, Nyasha, Maiguru, Babamukuru, Tambu’s father and mother and Lucia.
The characters are credible.
The female characters are potrayed to illustrate different possibilities.

” …my story is after all not about death, but about my escape and Lucia’s: about my mother’s nd Maiguru’s entrapment: and about Nyasha’s rebellion…”

The characters run into problems- lots of them. Tambu is conflicted with the differences between her confident and strong-willed personality at the homestead and her quick-to-please personality at the missions.

“Whereas in the years since I went back to school, I had let events pass me by as long as they did not interfere too deeply with my plans,  the way Nyasha responded to challenges reminded me of the intensity and determination with which I lived my early years. I became embarrassed over my acquired insipidity but I did not allow myself to agonize over it…”

“My vagueness and reverence for my uncle, what he was, what he had achieved, what he represented and therefore what he wanted had stunted the growth of my faculty of criticism, sapped the energy that in childhood I used to define my own position. I would not have been here if I had not been able to stand up to my own father, yet now I was unable to tell my uncle that his wedding was a farce…”

Nyasha on the other hand, faces the hurdles of challenging her father’s authority which is vastly worshipped by every other person. She faces the non-conformity of her mind to popular ideals. She also faces head on, the apparent yet subtle war against females by reason just of their being females.

“‘You know, Tambu,’ she began again painfully, ‘I guess he’s right, right to dislike me. It’s not his fault, it’s me. But I can’t help it. Really, I can’t. He makes me so angry. I can’t just shut up when he puts on his God act. I’m just not made that way. Why not? Why can’t I just take it like everybody else does? I ought to take it, but really, I can’t.'”

If I had to state my favourite character, it would be Maiguru, Nyasha’s mother. The themes of feminism and  colonialism are strong. Carole Boyce Davies has this to say:

Nervous Conditions brings to the politics of decolonization theory the energy of women’s rights. By now, a classic in African literature and black women’s literature, Nervous Conditions is a must for anyone wanting to understand voice, memory and coming of age for young black women in Africa”
I love this book.
I’ll recommend it to everyone for the purpose of getting a little more perspective.

 I also want to share a quick excerpt of an interview with the author at the end of the book:

“INT:You are a generous author in that everyone in nervous conditions is given a chance to explain or to be explained. It seems there are no monsters in your book, only humans and so no clear moral ground. Why did you employ this strategy?

THE AUTHOR: I employ this strategy so that many different categories of people can find something to identify with in the book- also because the situation of the characters is very complex. One can hold a person responsible for reacting to a situation in a certain way, but the situation that exerted the pressure to behave in that way must also be adressed”. 

(I put the words in bold for emphasis sake)
I rate it 4.5 stars.
Excerpts:

“… and thinking how dreadfully familiar that scene had been, with babmukuru condemning Nyasha to whoredom, making her a victim of her femaleness, just as I had felt victimized at home in the days when Nhamo went to school and I grew my maize. The victimization I saw was universal. It didn’t depend on poverty, on lack of education or on tradition. It didn’t depend on the things I thought it depended on. Men took it everywhere with them. Even heroes like babmukuru did it and that was the problem…but what I didn’t like was the way all the conflicts came back to this question of femaleness. Femaleness as opposed to and inferior to maleness”

“Their praise made me feel better. It made me feel good. My confidence returned…the idea made me feel so superior, so wholesome and earthy, like home-baked cornbread instead of the insubstantial loaves you bought in shops, that I helped to cook the sadza well”

‘I know‘ she interrupted. ‘it’s not England anymore and I ought to adjust. But when you’ve seen different things, you want to be sure you’re adjusting to the right thing. You can’t go on all the time being whatever’s necessary. You’ve got to have some conviction, and I’m convinced I don’t want to be anybody’s underdog. It’s not right for anyone to be that. But once you get used to it, well, it just seems natural, you just carry on. And that’s the end of you. You’re trapped. They control everything you do’

” ‘Ma’chido,’ Babmukuru was saying pacifically, ‘these are not good words’

No, they are not‘ Maiguru retorted recklessly ‘but if they are not good things to be said, then neither are they good things to happen. But they are happening here in my home‘ “

” there was a pause during which Maiguru folded her arms and leaned back in the sofa. ‘ I don’t think‘, she began easily in her soft soothing voice, ‘ that Tambudzai will be corrupted by going to that school. Don’t you remember, when we went to South Africa everybody was saying that we, the women, were loose.’ 

Babmukuru winced at this explicitness. Maiguru continued ‘it wasn’t a question of association with this race or that race at that time. People were prejudiced against educated women. Prejudiced. That’s why they said we weren’t decent. That was in the fifties. Now we are into the seventies. I am disappointed that people still believe the same things. After all this time and when we have seen nothing to say it is true. I don’t know what people mean by a loose woman-sometimes she is someone who walks the streets, sometimes she is an educated woman, sometimes she is a successful man’s daughter or she is simply beautiful. Loose or decent, I don’t know. All I know is that if our daughter Tambudzai is not a decent person now, she will never be no matter where she goes to school. And if she is decent, then this convent should not change her. As for money, you have said yourself that she has a full scholarship. It is possible that you have other reasons why she should not go there. Babawa Chido, but these- the question of decency and the question of money- are the ones I have heard of and so these are the ones I have talked of’.

There was another pause during which Maiguru unfolded her arms amd clasped her hands in her lap.

As always,

Debby

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