Nervous Conditions – Enjoyable On Many Levels

by serafina88


Nervous Conditions

Tsitsi Dangarembga


Reviewed by Joan Gauthier


The nervous condition in this novel refers to the inability of those individuals in a post-colonial society to feel a wholly part of their own culture, or wholly part of the colonizer’s.  They are literally “trapped” between two cultures and belong neither to one or the other.


Dangarembga introduces us to Tambu, who lives happily with her family on a primitive homestead in Zimbabwe.  The Tambu we meet enjoys the traditional activities of her people; bathing in the river, tending the crops, cooking in the traditional way, and she has everything she needs to feel content.  However, the death of her brother produces an unexpected opportunity for her to attend the nearby Mission school, and this changes everything in her world.   We journey along with her and are witness to the transformation that takes place as Tambu becomes immersed into western culture. Her changed situation now affords her a few more opportunities, but she can no longer go back to her family and enjoy her childhood home as she once did.  Her education now only allows her to see the unhygienic conditions that her family live in, and her indoctrination into the western way of life leaves her questioning the role that the women in her family have traditionally been forced to assume. 


Education has become a double edge sword for Tambu’s uncle Babamukuru also.  As the head of the family he is responsible for the well being of his family members, but his education has not only elevated his life-style, but has also enhanced the burden of responsibility that he feels for his family.  We feel the outrage that his wife keeps hidden inside, as her own earned income goes directly to support her husband’s family and we understand how they are trapped between the two societies with expectations from both sides.  When one of Tambu’s aunts, the rebellious, pregnant Lucia persuades Babamukuru to get her a job at the Mission, Tambu questions the motives and considers the consequences. She says:


“ I simply was not ready to accept that Babamukuru was a historical artifact; or that advantage and disadvantage was predetermined, so that Lucia could not really hope to achieve much as a result of Babamukuru’s generosity; and that the benefit would only really be a long-term one if people like Babamukuru kept on fulfilling their social obligation.”



This is a very enjoyable novel that can be appreciated on a number of levels.  While being simply an entertaining story in itself, it also reveals the difficulties of being female or an educated male in post-colonial Africa.  Each reader will pose their own question after reading this book, and undoubtedly reach their own conclusion as to the answers.


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