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Nervous Conditions

April 19, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 373

Title: Nervous Conditions

Author: Tsitsi Dangarembga

Publisher: Zimbabwe Publishing House

Year: 1988

Nervous Conditions is a story of Tambu, a rural Zimbabwean trapped in the squalor conditions in the late 60's. It is a story of escape from poverty and colonial education, courage to carve a niche in an unforgiving world, and the pain of struggling to be yourself and claim what is rightfully yours - the right to be free. It is a story of a girl child struggling to earn equal acceptance as a human being worthy of respect and equal opportunities.

Nervous Conditions is set in Zimbabwe of the 60's long before independence that happened in 1980. Tambu is a daughter in the family of four children. Both her mother and father are uneducated. They both however see no value in educating a girl child.

The story of Tambu begins with the tragic death of his brother, Nhamo. He had been sent to study in town and stays with his equally learned but controversial brother of his father known as Babamukuru. Nhamo had been the blue eyed boy of the family. Great things were expected from him hence he received all the best chances. Babamukuru had pontificated that Nhamo will lift his uneducated brother's side of the family from its squalor conditions. It was not to be. Nhamo took ill unexpectedly and died soon thereafter. Doctors had suspected he had mumps. The news of Nhamo's death hit his father in particular badly. He had banked on his son lifting the family out of its penny pinching existence. There is only one person who was not sad when Nhamo passed on, his sister Tambu. Nhamo had been a pain to his sister for all the short years they spent together.

The main protagonist Tambu insists that Nervous Conditions is not a story about death, but about her escape and that of Babamukuru's daughters Lucia and Nyasa and Babamukuru's wife Maiguru. In short, despite his high level education (degrees obtained in South Africa and UK) Babamukuru did not believe in gender equality. He treated his wife and daughters like second class citizens.

The twist in the story happens when Nhamo had died. Tambu also became a benefactor of Babamukuru's generosity - getting a chance to study in town and stay with Babamukuru in a modern house with all the trappings of urban life. It is during this period of Tambu's stay with Babamukuru that the true extent of Babamukuru's prejudice against women is revealed. Babamukuru's daughter Nyasa led a rebellion, questioning the status quo and becoming ungovernable. It is through her rebellion that other characters speak out against abuse. In the end, Tambu realised that even the much vaunted education she was receiving was tainted in favour of 'Englishness'. "Quietly, unobtrusively and extremely fitfully, something in my mind began to assert itself, to question things and refuse to be brainwashed..." she writes at the end. This was the moment of her escape both from poverty and colonial education negative effects.

Nervous Conditions is a powerful timeless novel. Author Tsitsi Dangarembga explored with rare success the condition of African women trapped in colonial Africa. She at once demonstrated both the beauty as well as shortcomings of Western education while her portrayal of traditional way of life is also not bathed in nostalgia. At the end, she produced authentic and believable characters making her work a masterpiece. Nervous Conditions is a hopeful manuscript for girl children beyond the boundaries of Zimbabwe, a truly universal story.

Bhekisisa Mncube is a specialist web-content writer, media relations specialist and managing director of B74 Media Lab. He is also a columnist at the Witness Newspaper as well as a Media/Political Commentator at the Gagasi99.5 FM. He is a member of the Book Review Panel at the New Agenda academic journal in South Africa. Mncube has been a writer for 12 years. He is a widely published in newspapers, magazines, websites and academic journals. You can network with Bhekisisa through LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook or write to

Source: EzineArticles
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