Saturday, July 4, 2009

review: Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

book 8 of 10 for the Orbis Terrarum 2009 challenge
book 6 of 12 for the Young Adult Challenge 2009

genre: young adult
rating: 4/5

Tambu, raised on a homestead in the back country of Zimbabwe (then a colony of Britain, called Rhodesia) has very little to engage her young mind. As she grows and her desires for education and knowledge increase, she finds that she is constantly fighting against two factors: the fact that she is female and the fact that she is African.

And while she loves her parents and can find some beauty in her tiring and off-the-land life on the homestead, what she truly wants to go to school. A string of circumstances enable her to travel to a mission and attend the mission school where her uncle is the headmaster. At school, Tambu's horizons expand by leaps and bounds, not only because of new experiences but especially because of her relationship with her cousin, Nyasha, who spent her much of her early childhood in England. Nyasha's world view is much more questioning and cynical and she forces Tambu to ask hard questions about what she wants and why she wants it.

This is a true coming of age story - a young girl learning about herself, discovering not only the grander world around her, but also the more intimate workings of her immediate family. The fact that all this is happening on an Rhodesian farm, within a strictly patriarchal culture that is so unfamiliar to me and yet, so beautifully described - makes it all the better. I found myself as frustrated as she was with the constraints and assumptions she (and other women in the story) had to deal with because she was female. Nervous Conditions is full to the brim with topics to discuss: colonialism, racism, feminism, assimilation, "primitive" culture vs. "progressive" culture, even mental health. All those deep issues tossed around in a story of a girl and her cousin, trying to figure out their place in a society that was set up to keep African women as small as possible.

I really enjoyed reading this one, but I can't call it a page turner, really. I read because Dangarembga has a wonderful way with words and because I loved spending some time in a place so foreign. The plot moves forward, but isn't gripping - it's more like a ride down the river of Tumba's life, occasionally there is a major upset, but mostly we are just gliding along with her as she sorts through the things she sees and hears. Though I didn't fly through it, I enjoyed the ride.


bermudaonion said...

I love books set in other cultures, so the book appeals to me, and I think the cover is just fabulous.

Trish said...

I think I find with books like this I enjoy it better if it is more of a slow story (I'm not thinking of the right word) rather than something that has climax after climax--with those others the sensationalism sometimes detracts from the main points of the book. I haven't heard of this one, but I've been looking for books about this part of Africa, so I'll keep my eye open.

tuulenhaiven said...

I also love the cover art. :) Thanks for the review - it's refreshing to read a book by an author who really knows how to paint with words. This sounds like a good one.

Hedgie said...

There's also a sequel called The Book of Not. I haven't read it, so can't really say much about it.

viagra online said...

I have read lot of book related to nervous issues, bur in my opinion, Nervous Conditions is the best book I have ever read. It is not just that it treats a very concerning matter but the writer is so marvelous!

Elliott Broidy said...

I'm interested enough to look for it.

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