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Nervous Conditions (1988)

by Tsitsi Dangarembga

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Nervous Conditions (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,963447,901 (3.94)288
"A modern classic in the African literary canon and voted in the Top Ten Africa's 100 Best Books of the 20th Century, this novel brings to the politics of decolonization theory the energy of women's rights. An extraordinarily well-crafted work, this book is a work of vision. Through its deft negotiation of race, class, gender and cultural change, it dramatizes the 'nervousness' of the 'postcolonial' conditions that bedevil us still. In Tambu and the women of her family, we African women see ourselves, whether at home or displaced, doing daily battle with our changing world with a mixture of tenacity, bewilderment and grace"--… (more)

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» See also 288 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
I was not sorry when my brother died. Nor am I apologising for my callousness, as you may define it, my lack of feeling.

Thus begins this coming of age novel of Tambu, a young Zimbabwean girl straddling the divides between men and women, white and black, uneducated and educated, rural and urban, European and African. From the first sentences, Tambu is presented as a strong person relating her story to an other that may not understand her. She makes no excuses and, although she is sharing her experiences, she does not feel a need to justify herself or her decisions. Her voice is quite unique.

Even as children, Tambu's older brother had assumed the role of a traditional, conservative male, feeling an innate superiority to his female siblings. This arrogance was reinforced when their Western-educated uncle chooses him to be educated at the missionary school where he is the headmaster. Tambu chafes at her brother's good fortune, for she is equally intelligent and ambitious. It is only after her brother dies, that her uncle takes her in to be educated.

Life in her uncle's house is revelatory. Indoor plumbing, kitchen appliances, and other accoutrements of a wealthy, Western-influenced home impress Tambu. She doesn't at first understand that her well-educated aunt is as entrapped by her womanhood as her poverty-stricken mother, or the reasons for her cousin Nyasha's rebellion. Slowly Tambu must grapple with the grey choices of escape from poverty by assimilating or remaining true to her village roots at the cost of her ambitions.

[Nervous Conditions] is the first in a trilogy of novels about Tambu. Although this first novel deals with issues of feminism and colonialism, it comes to no conclusions. In fact, that is part of what Tambu learns in this book: that the world is not clear-cut and that ambiguity clouds our choices. Although not as strongly written as [A Girl is a Body of Water] or [Woman at Point Zero], I enjoyed being immersed in Tambu's world and will look for the next book in the trilogy. ( )
  labfs39 | Sep 2, 2023 |
Yes. ( )
  Kiramke | Jun 27, 2023 |
The tensions arising between traditional ways of life and opportunities that European interventions offer to native Africans willing to accept them reside at the heart of Tsitsi Dangarembga’s incisive and poignant novel, Nervous Conditions. In 1960s Rhodesia (soon to become independent Zimbabwe), Tambudzai (Tambu) Sigauke lives with her parents and siblings on the family homestead, in a rural village 20 miles from the town of Umtali. The homestead is squalid and life is hard, facts she can accept because it is all she knows. But Tambu is smart. Limited time at the local school has demonstrated that she possesses a quick and searching intelligence. She yearns to expand her horizons. What’s holding her back (other than her family’s poverty) is her gender. As a girl, her route through life is set in stone: inevitably she’ll become someone’s wife and have children. But opportunity for a different kind of life does exist: her brother Nhamo is attending the residential mission school in Umtali, where his fees are being covered by their well-off British-educated uncle Babamukuru. The family expects that once Nhamo’s education is complete, he will find gainful employment and provide them with economic security. Back on the homestead Tambu is consumed with envy. Taken out of school to help on the farm because of Nhamo’s absence, she has no choice but to accept her fate. But when Nhamo dies suddenly, the tragedy forces a decision on the grieving Sigauke family, and despite her mother’s objections Tambu takes her brother’s place at the mission school. Tambu, who cannot afford to be sentimental, can hardly believe her luck. Over the next two years, in an atmosphere where the pursuit of excellence is encouraged, she rises to the top of her class, exceeding her own and her uncle’s expectations. But Tambu discovers that success in the English-speaking white man’s world does not come without a cost. As her academic triumphs push her further and further from her family, her language, and the world she came from, she’s left feeling that she’s betrayed everyone and wondering what she’s gotten herself into. Dangarembga’s semi-autobiographical fiction, first published in 1988, has been followed by two sequels, The Book of Not (2006), and This Mournable Body (shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2020) which bring Tambu’s story into the present day. Tambu Sigauke, an exceptionally self-aware protagonist, knows her own mind and is unapologetic when it comes to pursuing her hopes and dreams. But by the novel’s end she is deeply conflicted, immersed in a goal-oriented European lifestyle, culturally unmoored, ashamed of her humble origins and suffering guilt because of this shame. Despite her successes she is blindsided when the realization hits her that, as a black African living in the white man’s world, she has no idea where she belongs. Written with candour and wrenching honesty, Nervous Conditions provides a powerful commentary on colonialism’s painful legacy from an insider’s perspective and leaves an indelible impression on the reader. ( )
1 vote icolford | May 16, 2023 |
Imagine a society where the only way a woman will be able to get an education is if her older brother, who was going to school himself, died, and since she’s the oldest of the family, now she has to go to school in his place.

For author Tsitsi Dangarembga, this wasn’t too far from the truth. In fact, she wrote a semi-autographical novel about it, called Nervous Conditions, about the plight of girls who want an education living in Zimbabwe (or what was then called Rhodesia). The novel follows Tambu, who’s older brother dies of ‘becoming Anglicized’, but in an effort to have at least one member of the family educated at the Catholic school their uncle manages, Tambu is sent to school to take over her brother’s position as eldest of the family. She does this knowing her mother hates it, knowing her father wants her to do it, and knowing that she will never be as close as she used to be to her culture.

The main characters of the novel, Tambu and her cousin Nyasha, have an incredibly dynamic relationship, being incredibly different but able to support each other positively whenever the other needs. Unfortunately, Nyasha does not fare well, becoming, towards the end, a product of the pressure to be perfect, and a part of a society she wants nothing to do with. While a smart girl, Nyasha is a victim of the extreme patriarchy of her father’s reign at the school, and a black woman in a colonized society that views them as nothing more than the natives of the land.

Tambu, on the other hand, excels, meeting her own obstacles of self-identity, both as a girl who spent the majority of her life up to now living in a homestead learning to become the perfect wife, and as a black woman being educated in a white man’s colony. She triumphs over her obstacles, but one can only assume how much she had to pay for that to be said in the first place.

Nervous Conditions is a brilliant novel, written by an author who knows the struggle, and presented to a society who will never understand the difficulty of acquiring an education. My honest recommendation is 4/5; everyone should read this book, especially those interested in history.

Luckily for you, if you’re an English student at the University of Malta, the chances are you’ll have to read this in your second year! ( )
  viiemzee | Feb 20, 2023 |
This novel has a fantastic opening that immediately captured my interest:
“I was not sorry when my brother died. Nor am I apologising for my callousness, as you may define it, my lack of feeling…I shall not apologise but begin by recalling the facts as I remember them that led up to my brother’s death, the events that put me in a position to write this account. For though the event of my brother’s passing and the events of my story cannot be separated, my story is not after all about death, but about my escape.”

Set in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) in the 1960s-1970s, protagonist Tambu looks back on her life. As a teen, she yearned for education, but “the needs and sensibilities of the women in my family were not considered a priority, or even legitimate.” Through a confluence of circumstances, she gets the chance to attend a Protestant mission school. She is beholden to Babamukuru, her uncle and the head of the school. She wants to stand up for herself but finds it difficult. Her friend, Nyasha, daughter of Babamukuru, who has studied in England, has much less trouble rebelling against traditions.

“You had to admit that Nyasha had no tact. You had to admit she was altogether too volatile and strong-willed. You couldn’t ignore the fact that she had no respect for Babamukuru when she ought to have had lots of it. But what I didn’t like was the way all the conflicts came back to this question of femaleness. Femaleness as opposed and inferior to maleness.”

This story examines post-colonialism, race, class, gender, education, traditions, and the patriarchal society. It is a lot to pack into a 250-page novel, but these factors are all integrated beautifully into the storyline. The ending sets up the next book in this trilogy. ( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tsitsi Dangarembgaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Appiah, Kwame AnthonyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carlsson, IrjaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cillario, GraziellaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Galle, ÉtienneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Henny, HelenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Olcina, EmiliTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Plenge, VagnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ponkala, LeilaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Trojanow, IlijaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vittorio, Claudia diTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
צוקרמן, אמירTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The condition of native is a nervous condition
From an introduction to Fanon's, The Wretched of the Earth.
First words
I was not sorry when my brother died.
"It's the Englishness," she said. "It'll kill them all if they aren't careful..."
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS
Canonical LCC

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (1)

"A modern classic in the African literary canon and voted in the Top Ten Africa's 100 Best Books of the 20th Century, this novel brings to the politics of decolonization theory the energy of women's rights. An extraordinarily well-crafted work, this book is a work of vision. Through its deft negotiation of race, class, gender and cultural change, it dramatizes the 'nervousness' of the 'postcolonial' conditions that bedevil us still. In Tambu and the women of her family, we African women see ourselves, whether at home or displaced, doing daily battle with our changing world with a mixture of tenacity, bewilderment and grace"--

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Book description
Detta är min favoritbok på grund av hur man får följa uppväxten i Afrika under fattiga förhållanden, och där möta människan och landet, inte bara problem.

Genom att läsa Rotlös kan man få en unik inblick i fattigdom, en önskan om utbildning och kvinnors situation. Tambua är en ung tjej som inte vill något annat än att få en utbildning så att hon kan hjälpa både henne själv och hennes familj. Men familjen är mycket fattig och har inte råd att skicka sina barn till skolan. De får ekonomiskt stöd från Tambuas farbror Bakamukuru som har turen att, genom att visa en enorm flit, få en gedigen utbildning först på en missionsskola. Och har därefter skickas först till Sydafrika, och senare till England för att fortsätta att lära sig och skaffa mer kunskap. Detta så att han, som är rektor vid missionärsskolan kan lära ut till sina landsmän.

Trots den finansiella hjälpen från farbrorn är det inledningsvis i huvudsak Tambus bror som får gå i skolan medan Tambua, efter att ha varit i skolan i ett år, måste stanna hemma de åren Bakamukuru är i England för att få vidareutbildning. Hon vill gå i skola så mycket, och önskar inget hellre än att lära sig saker och komma ut ur fattigdom och den stora fattigdom hon lever i varje dag. Så, utöver sitt tunga arbete på gården har hon sin egen lilla fält med majs. Hon har arbetat i gryningen varje dag under ett helt år på detta område för att sälja majs på marknaden och ha råd att gå i skolan. Familjen tror inte hon kommer att lyckas, vilket kräver mycket beslutsamhet och engagemang. Hennes bror verkar vara helt oförstående till hennes tuffa kamp på marken, när han tar en del av majs och ger barnen i skolan gratis. Detta orsakar en ännu djupare spricka mellan syskonen som redan har börjat glida isär när hennes bror inte längre verkar bry sig om familjen efter att han har börjat utbildning på skolan. När Tambua genom att åka med en lärare in till stan för att sälja majsen med hans hjälp, lyckas få en donation till henne terminsavgifter, får hon äntligen medel för att fortsätta i skolan. Men hade det inte varit för hans brors död, kunde hon inte få fortsätta så långt upp i årskurserna eftersom farbror Bakamukuru hade lovat att betala för utbildning för ett av barnen i varje familj, om föräldrarna inte har råd med det. Så det faktum att hennes bror dör, är hennes enda väg till fortsatt utbildning. Och hon är glad, även om det är svårt att lämna sin familj och Nyamarina, floden hon älskade att bada i och som gav henne hopp. Detta medan hennes familj fortfarande är utan hopp att få någon utbildning eller förbättring av sin levnadsstandard.

På missionskolan förstår Tambua att anpassa sig till de seder som är för flickor och hur kvinnor ska bete sig och tycker inte att hon begränsar sig så mycket, är ett anmärkningsvärt undantag ät när farbrorn tvingade mamman och pappan som levt tillsammans i många år att gifta sig i formella högtidsdräkter. Vid detta tillfällr känner Tambua starkt att hon inte vill delta. Men för Nyasha, hennes kusin som bodde i England med sin far, rektorn, i ett par år, är anpassningen mycket svårare. Nyasha har idéer och tankar hennes far inte tycker är lämpliga för en kvinna. Hon vill till exempel gå ut och dansa utan att tänka på hur hon då framstår i andra ögon. Det visar sig också att även Bakamukurus fru, Maiguru, som är högutbildad med en magisterexamen och arbetar som lärare, måste krympa sig själv att passa in i hur kvinnan ska vara. Tambua känner alltså att hon måste ta varje tillfälle till utbildning även om det innebär att hon inte kan se sin familj och vänner så mycket, hon får bara en chans, och kan inte låta den gå förbi henne. Utbildning är svaret på hennes drömmar om ett annat liv och hennes förhoppningar om att kunna hjälpa sin familj. För dem som är modiga, som moderns syster, är ett annat sätt att få vad du vill att stå upp för dig själv och inte vika ner sig, systern är fattig, och dessutom ogift och gravid, men får ändå på kvällstid en utbildning efter att ha frågat Bakamukuru om en vanligt jobb så hon kan bidra till att stödja familjen.

Läsning är för Tambua ett sätt att utvecklas till den kvinna hon vill vara. Tambua säger att hon läst allt från Enid Blyton till systrarna Brontë, och att allt gjorde intryck. När hon var upptagen i böckerna, visste hon att det handlade om att bilda sig, och var fylld med ett tack till författarna för att de tog henne till platser där ingen frågade om god smak etc. Nyasha introducerar Tambua till att läsning också är ett sätt att uppleva andra kulturer. Nyasha säger att hon läser böcker om verkliga människor och deras öden, om förhållandena i Sydafrika, araberna, japanska, brittiska och nazisterna. Nyasha hade visserligen mardrömmar om dessa saker, om dessa grymheter, men hon fortsätter att läsa ändå. Det finns så många saker hon vill veta, om judarnas anspråk på Palestina var rättmätiga, om monarkin var en rättvis form av regering, hur livet var före kolonisation och så vidare. Men Nyasha säger till Tambua att njuta av sina berättelser, det vill säga romaner hon läser av systrarna Brontë etc, så länge hon kan eftersom de inte är nog för att förstå en annan kultur. Här har Nyasha dock helt klart fel, även när man läser en berättelse kan få en inblick i en kultur och skapa förståelse. Detta är precis vad denna roman gör!
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