LITERATURE REVIEW: NERVOUS CONDITIONS


It’s been almost 30 years since the novel ‘Nervous Conditions’ was published in 1988. Written by Zimbabwean author, Tsitsi Dangarembga, it was her third novel and to date is one of only four novels the author has published (a sequel to ‘Nervous Conditions’ was published in 2006). Set in the late 1960s and 70s in Rhodesia, which was an unrecognised state from 1965 to 1979, and is now Zimbabwe. The recent coup of the national party, Zanu PF and the forced resignation of revolutionary turned dictator, Robert Mugabe who ruled the country for 37 years prompted a look back at this novel. The interesting thing about the novel is that it is not overtly political. It’s set in the 60s and 70s, this was before Zimbabwe became independent from British rule and before Mugabe became president. The novel follows a little girl named Tambudzai as she navigates the oppressive patriarchal domination in her home. After her older brother, Nhamo, dies, Tambu is sent to the missionary school where Nhamo studied; she is away from home with her wealthy middle-class uncle Babamukuru and his family. She finds it difficult to assimilate into the culture of the missionary school and is alienated from the white British missionaries and their children who speak Shona rather than English. Her cousin, Nyasha, returns from England, and struggles with the oppressive patriarchal landscape of Rhodesia. The novel highlights the way in which assimilation is not necessarily a positive thing but can be a difficult and traumatic experience. It also explores how women experience assimilation might differ from a man’s experience. The politics and colonialism of the novel is not overt, but it is represented in the characters and natives of the countries it has affected. It’s certainly not the first, but it is an important representation of African feminism and the struggles which black women go through. The novel however does not wallow in despair, it’s certainly dark at times but it’s ultimately uplifting, and recommended reading for everyone, especially young black women.

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