Friday, 4 July 2014

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

Reviewer: JJ Marsh

What We Thought: "The condition of native is a nervous condition." - Jean-Paul Sartre in his introduction to Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth

How come no one told me about this before?

A coming-of-age, but in such a very special age. Dangarembga tackles post-colonial attitudes and sexual politics in patriarchal Zimbabwe, set against a backdrop of rural, brutal poverty.

Tambu’s not stupid. She can see the only escape from a life of bearing water, babies and burdens of injustice must be education. Look at Uncle Babamukuru, who went to England and is now running a mission school. She can’t attend. She’s a girl. An intelligent, enterprising, ferocious girl.

Her determination bears fruit, or mealies, and her future is wide open. Babamukuru offers an opportunity and Tambu takes it. Despite her nerves, and her confused relationship with her cousin, Nyasha.

This is an extraordinary book, with a powerful voice and distinct perspective. All the scents, sounds, textures, tastes, images and social structures are not presented as an insight to a voyeur, but as an immersion into another life, another way of thinking. The reader is placed within the normality of a small African village, observing and experiencing deception, power, corruption, generosity, loyalty and how the hangover of colonialism is open to interpretation.

You’ll like this if you enjoyed: Wild Swans, Things Fall Apart, A Thousand Splendid Suns

Avoid if you dislike: Realities of rural African life, injustice, hard questions

Ideal accompaniments: Sweet potatoes with chilli and ginger, mango juice and Thomas Mapfumo’s Nidwe Chete.

Genre: Literary fiction.

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