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Nervous Conditions

(Nervous Conditions #1)

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  13,602 ratings  ·  1,051 reviews
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 'nervousn ...more
Paperback, 204 pages
Published November 29th 2004 by Seal Press (CA) (first published 1988)
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Adina
Apr 20, 2021 rated it really liked it
I am long due with a review for this novel but I do not think I can write anything relevant. I read Nervous Conditions while suffering from a bad reading slump and, to be honest, I struggled through it. I realised it is not the book’s fault and after trying to be as objective as possible I gave it 4*.

The opening line “I was not sorry when my brother died. Nor am I apologizing for my callousness, as you may define it, my lack of feeling” is an excellent attention grabber and made me very eager t
...more
Brina
Last year I discovered the writing of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Writing contemporary accounts of Nigerians in both Africa and in the United States and England, Adichie has becoming a leading African feminist voice. Before Adichie, thirty years ago Tsitsi Dangarembga attempted to assert rights for African women in both her writing and film making. Needing an African classic for my classics bingo this year, I decided upon Dangarembga's debut autobiographical novel, Nervous Conditions, which is inf ...more
Sean Barrs
Apr 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Feminists
Identity is a powerful concept. But how does one establish such a thing? Conventionally it develops from childhood due to an association with home and place. But what happens if your home is changing? What happen if you’re taken away from that home? Indeed, if you are forced to accept another culture’s ways and customs, who is the “you” that is left? What nationality do you become?

These are the question Tambu has to ask herself. She’s a young black girl living in a small, rural, improvised vill
...more
Lisa
"Quietly, unobtrusively and extremely fitfully, something in my mind began to assert itself, to question things and refuse to be brainwashed, bringing me to this time when I can set down this story. It was a long process for me, that process of expansion."

Thus ends the novel which started with the narrator's confession that she was not sorry when her brother died. The painful process of expansion which made Tambu's story possible was blocked for many years - blocked by the patriarchal system wh
...more
Hugh
Sep 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit, read-2020
This book is now widely taught as a modern African classic, so I was interested in reading it to improve my understanding of the third part of the trilogy This Mournable Body, which has been shortlisted for this year's Booker prize.

This book covers its narrator Tambu's childhood and teenage years in the Rhodesia of the 1960s. The opening line "I was not sorry when my brother died" is a striking one, and the book gives the context in which it makes sense.

Tambu grows up in a small village where he
...more
Roman Clodia
Apr 05, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quietly, unobtrusively and extremely fitfully, something in my mind began to assert itself, to question things and refuse to be brainwashed, bringing me to this time when I can set down this story. It was a long and painful process for me, that process of expansion. It was a process whose events stretched over many years and would fill another volume, but the story I have told here, is my own story, the story of four women whom I loved, and our men, this story is how it all began.

Such an int
...more
Emily B
Jan 07, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book presents an interesting and intelligent depiction of life in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia at the time) . I was entertained throughout and felt immersed in the story and culture.

The issues that are raised in the novel around gender and identity are powerful and important.

‘The victimization, I saw, was universal. It didn't depend on poverty, on lack of education or on tradition. It didn't depend on any of the things I had thought it depended on. Men took it everywhere with them. Even heroes like
...more
Paul
Sep 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was voted as one of the best African books of the twentieth century. Written in the late 1980s, it is set in what was then Rhodesia (and is now Zimbabwe) in the 1960s and 1970s. It is actually the first of a trilogy; the third part of which has just been published this year (This Mournable Body, it has been longlisted for the Booker Prize). Dangarembga has also just been arrested for protesting against corruption in Zimbabwe. This novel is partly autobiographical. The title is taken from Sa ...more
Sidharth Vardhan
Aug 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It uses the old method popular among novelists of highlighting the prevalent social injustice and conditions through a shocking event - you know how Medea's killing her children reflected on patriarchy of her time, when 'Beloved's heroine kills her child it reflected on slavery. Camus' Outsider's narrator failed to feel any grief for his mother's loss - reflecting the way how people are unable to feel a sense of belonging to our surroundings and so on, Before I had read Phaedra I thought her inc ...more
Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer
I had the pleasure to put some questions to the author on BBC Radio 4 Front Row in October. The recording covers my question on the first line of her latest novel (at 17:20-19:05).

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000...

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 and Lucia’s; about my mother’s and Maiguru’s entrapment; and about Nyasha’s rebellion - Nyasha, far-minded and isolated, my
...more
Doug
Aug 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd never even heard of this book, although it is an acknowledged classic of African lit, until the final volume of the trilogy of which this is the first part, was nominated for this year's Booker Prize. Since that final volume has NOT been universally loved, I debated whether I wanted to spend the time to read the first two books - but am glad I decided in the affirmative, as this was an unexpected delight. [Since I had determined that I would ALSO have to read all three of Mantel's Cromwell t ...more
Sue
We first meet Tambudzai, or Tambu as she is more commonly called, as she talks about her brother.

I was not sorry when my brother died. Nor am I
apologising for my callousness, my lack of feeling.
For it is not that at all. I feel many things these days,
much more than I was able to feel in the days when I
was young and my brother died, and there are
reasons for this more than the mere consequences
of age.
(p 1)

From this opening, introducing us to thirteen year old Tambu, we enter the world of
...more
Vicky "phenkos"
Jan 04, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: colonialism
I liked this book but didn't fall in love with it. It's a story of poverty and gender, a story of how colonialism shaped the material conditions of life for the majority of the black population in what was formerly Rhodesia (and now Zimbabwe) and defined the extremely limited opportunities for upward mobility. The book tells the story of Tambu, a young girl whose older brother is invited to go to school at a missionary while she has to stay at home and help with household chores as well as work ...more
Zanna
This book takes its title and epigraph from an introduction to The Wretched of the Earth, which I've been reading slowly for several weeks. It was really wonderful to read this, partly as an illustration of some of Fanon's ideas, and more as a female perspective that answers and critiques Fanon's highly male-centric account of the colonised subject.

But forget every other book and every other author – from the incendiary opening sentence to the fraught and nervous close, this story held me heart
...more
El
Jan 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to El by: The Roundtable
This is one of those books I went into reading not knowing anything about it, other than Dangarembga is a Zimbabwean author. I've known about the book's existence for a while, have even picked it before; but I have to admit the title itself has always prevented me from reading it. There's not really a good reason for that. But you know how sometimes you're drawn to a certain shirt because the color appeals to your eyes? Or you're turned off by a certain song because there's a chord that really b ...more
Alex
May 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Alex by: Chinook
Shelves: africa, 2016
"This is the novel we have been waiting for," said Doris Lessing. "I am sure it will be a classic." And it is: it ranks on the ASC's Top 12 of 20th Century Africa. What Lessing was waiting for was feminism, and to call this Things Fall Apart for girls is a simplification but it'll do if you need to describe it in five words.

Like Achebe's classic, Nervous Conditions (1988, set in 1968) is about the conflux between African society and white interference. Its two main characters - narrator Tambu an
...more
Claire
Absolutely brilliant, one of the most interesting characters I've come across in my cross cultural journey's, portrayed with such raw honesty, I'm in awe and immensely relieved there is another book to follow, because I'm not ready to leave it there.

It's a coming of age story of Tambu, a teenage girl, who in the beginning lives in a small village with her parents and siblings and their days are hard, especially the women, who work in the fields all day, do the laundry at the river, transport wat
...more
Daniel Chaikin
Mar 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this as part of my effort to read the 2020 BookerLong List, which includes This Mournable Body. That novel is part of a trilogy that includes this, Nervous Conditions (1988), and The Book of Not (2006). I plan to read the trilogy.

Nervous Conditions is considered one of the most important African books, with a theme on the limits of women in Africa. I was expecting dark disturbing stuff, and this was reinforced by the first line. The book opens, “I was not sorry when my brother died.” But
...more
Chinook
Feb 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 1001, africa
Holy fuck, this blew my mind.

I suppose what really got me was watching a young girl in an extremely male dominated world try to work her way through it to succeed in spite of a lot of adversity. And to watch each of the women around her try to do so too. What I really liked about the novel gets hit on in the author interview at the end, that there are no monsters in this book, each character does get to explain and be understood.

The author interview also mentions that Dangarembga finds race ha
...more
Chrissie
Nervous Conditions is about an extended black family of the former British colony Southern Rhodesia, living in what is today Zimbabwe. The time setting is the 1960s into 1970, before independence. The political turmoil is not part of the plot, yet the family’s ties to England and South Africa pop up.

The central figure and the narrator of the story is Tambudzai Sigauke, Tambu for short. Telling the story now as an adult, she looks back to when she was fourteen. Her paternal uncle Babamukuru is a
...more
Paul Fulcher
Oct 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
From the 2020 Goldsmiths lecture from Bernadine Evaristo, winner of the 2019 Booker Prize given on the day I started this novel (and my copy also came with an introduction from the Chair of the 2018 Booker judges):

But seriously, how can you teach the 20th century novel in English and not include (not as token gestures) a number of powerful and significant books from global majority writers, including novels by black writers such as: Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Passing by
...more
Samir Rawas Sarayji
Feb 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Some texts have been studied, reviewed, analyzed, and criticized so much that there is little left to say about them—Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga is such a text. All that is left for now is personal until some new form of critical or cultural theory descends upon us to offer an additional insightful interpretation.

It is a coming-of-age story mainly around two characters, Tambu and Nyasha. The story is narrated by Tambu, the focal character, who is sometimes the ‘I’ and sometimes the
...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
I wasn’t going to read this book, because I already had one for Zimbabwe and thought it was just another coming-of-age story. Then I read this critical essay, which made me sit up and pay attention. And so I wound up reading the book, which is good, but oh, so depressing.

I should say that the books I find depressing are somewhat idiosyncratic. A lot of people have trouble reading about war and related atrocities, but those books rarely affect me much; they’re just too far beyond my realm of expe
...more
Lorraine
Dec 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
I battled with this book. Until about 80% into it, I was not clear about its direction and had to re-read the reviews which hailed it as a literary germ.

Tsitsi is an excellent writer but I found her diction a bit elitist. I don't mind using the dictionary every now and then then the book becomes a bit of hard work. Unless you are reading for academic prowess, books should be a sort of escapism from the everyday stresses.

The storyline was very interesting and captivating. It is not everyday one r
...more
Mikki
Oct 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: africa
What I loved most about this book was the underlying story of coming to self and not so much to age. In first person narrative, Tambu, a 14 year old Zimbabwean, speaks directly to the reader telling not only her story of growing up female in a patriarchal society, but also those of the women around her.

In the opening sentence, Tambu makes no apologies regarding her lack of emotion toward her brother's death. Because with no other male children in the family, she is now the one afforded the oppo
...more
Kate
Mar 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This is an amazing African Feminist version of the classic "coming of age" novel. Think Great Expectations set in 1960's Zimbabwe and from the point of view of a girl caught between her native culture and that of British colonialism. I ordered a set of this book to teach College Prep Seniors but they're too dumb. I'm hoping to teach it to more academically-inclined seniors next year. (I might actually be teaching Honors Seniors next year!!!) ...more
Tamara Agha-Jaffar
Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga is a coming of age story of Tambudzai, a young girl from a rural village in Zimbabwe. The narrative unfolds in her voice as she witnesses social injustices and the conflicts of living in a postcolonial environment.

Tambudzai (Tambu) is a precocious young girl who wants more from life than the one circumscribed for the women in her culture. She resents her brother’s entitlement to an education while hers is initially denied because she is female. With her
...more
robin friedman
May 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
A Rhodesian Coming Of Age Novel

Set in the late 1960's -- 1970's, Tsitsi Dangarembga's 1988 novel "Nervous Conditions" (1988) tells the story of an adolescent girl growing up in rural Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). The author is a Zimbabwe native who earned a medical degree and lived in Germany and England before returning to her native country. She has become a full-time writer of novels, plays, and films. "Nervous Conditions" is the first book of a projected trilogy. The second book "The Book of Not" was
...more
Claudia
Nov 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Black students in higher ed
An engaging (and fast) read. A must read for any one in the African diaspora experiencing some kind of change in social class (e.g. being first in the family to attend college or graduate school) or otherwise having suspicions about the sources of their feelings of alienation.

Nyasha's character resonated most with me, as I'm a first-generation African-American college student of working class origins who ended up pursuing a Ph.D.: I, too, feel frustrated by what seems to be an obvious oppressiv
...more
Cupsuptic
Apr 14, 2007 rated it really liked it
"The condition of natives is a nervous condition" - Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth , 1961 - This is the basis for the title of Nervous Conditions, an account of a young woman from rural Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) struggling to find herself amid influences from Western-educated relatives, missionary schools, and traditional family values. Africa is known by its cliches; it's easy to forget the faces behind them- this is a good account of the psychological hazards of colonialism and an impo ...more
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Spent part of her childhood in England. She began her education there, but concluded her A-levels in a missionary school back home, in the town of Mutare. She later studied medicine at Cambridge University, but became homesick and returned home as Zimbabwe's black-majority rule began in 1980.

She took up psychology at the University of Zimbabwe, of whose drama group she was a member. She also held
...more

Other books in the series

Nervous Conditions (3 books)
  • The Book of Not (Nervous Conditions, #2)
  • This Mournable Body

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