Nervous Conditions

by meaganjbrown

Review 2

Meagan Brown

 

“I was not sorry when my brother died. Nor am I apologising for my callousness, as you may define it, my lack of feeling.”

These are the opening lines to Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions. Without hesitation the author dives right into the bitter-sweet event that provides the speaker with a new beginning and a promising future. This lovely explicit novel explores the roles of women in the patriarchal society of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) during the 60’s and 70’s. Tambu, the voice of the novel, is a poor young Rhodesian girl who is given the rare opportunity to gain an education at the cost of her sibling’s death. Her education defies the norms of the patriarchal society and brings light to ever changing social customs. 

                Tambu’s brothers death puts her first in line in the hierarchy of her siblings, since she has no other male siblings. Thankfully for Tambu, the education her brother received from her uncle Bubamukuru’s mission school becomes a reality for herself. She vows to herself to maintain her cultural identity, unlike her brother and her cousins. However this is easier said than done, especially without the support of her family. Her uncle believed going to a ‘white’ school “may change her character for the worse…” While Babamukuru represents the powerful and prestigious patriarchal hierarchy that confines Rhodesian women to their accepted roles, he also enables them to achieve more than their predicted destiny in his quest to improve his family’s living standards.

There are four strong women in Tambu’s family also challenging cultural traditions. This is brought about through the nervous condition or identity crisis these women face as they decide how to react to their struggles. Tambu’s cousin Nyasha suffers through an eating disorder and buries herself in her studies as her Shona identity unravels. Her mother battles losing a child and struggles to accept the ‘white’ ideals her daughter will confront at her new school. Lucia, Tambu’s aunt, with the help of Babamukuru, gets a job at the mission and dismisses the traditional norm of settling down with a man. Babamukuru’s own wife, Maiguru, is a highly educated woman that has become trapped in a patriarchy and forced to suppress her own opinions. With a little motivation she finds her own voice and stands up to her husband, “I am tired of being nothing in a home I am working myself sick to support.”

Tambu’s life is a success story in that she works towards finding a balance between her culture and that of the occupying colonial ‘whites’. These women represent the slow evolution of cultural change. Dangarembga’s abrupt ending leaves the reader wanting more in this enriching novel of struggles through nervous conditions.

 

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