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Tsitsi Dangarembga: Nervous Condition

This is a presumably semi-autobiographical tale of a Rhodesian/Zimbabwean girl, growing up in what is not only a racist society but, more particularly, a sexist society. Tambudzai is the daughter of a not very well off farmer. As a girl, it has been determined that she does not need education, except to learn how to become a good wife and mother. What limited resources there are in the family are spent on the education of her brother, Nhamo, who seems to sees education primarily as an excuse to get out of doing any work. She, however, is determined to get education and sets out to grow maize on her own to earn money for that education. Despite sabotage from her brother (he steals her maize), she succeeds, not least because she has the help of her well-to-do Uncle Babamukuru.

But Nhamo dies and Tambudzai goes to the mission school where she lives with her uncle. There she re-establishes contact with her cousin, Nyasha. Nyasha and her family have spent time in England and, as a result, Nyasha, is not the well-behaved girl her father expects her to be but rebellious. She smokes, she is rude to her parents, talks to boys. In short, she is a girl who wants her independence, wants to be herself. Tambudzai is both shocked at her behaviour but also admires Nyasha and the two become close friends with a mutual dependence on one another. Tambudzai has decided that her path to independence is through education though she is not entirely uninfluenced by Nyasha. It is no surprise that Tambudzai’s way wins out – Nyasha becomes bulimic when Tambudzai gets a scholarship and goes away to school, and she barely survives. But how both girls try to cope with, survive in and, eventually, overcome a rigidly patriarchal society is wonderfully told by Dangarembga.

Publishing history

First published 1988 by Women’s Press, London