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Read Around the World: Zimbabwe

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We have returned to Africa for our next stop on our world tour of reading. In scheduling these posts, I have realized that I really like African literature and both of us have read a fair amount of African literature this year. This month we are traveling to Zimbabwe! Keep reading to see which book we picked and what we thought.

 Fun Facts about Zimbabwe

  • Zimbabwe is a landlocked country that is home to Victoria Falls and the Hwange National Park. It is about the size of Japan and home to over 13 million people.
  • U.K. annexed Southern Rhodesia in 1923 and it wasn’t until 1980 that it finally become independent after multiple votes, UN sanctions, and a guerrilla uprising that led to free elections in 1979.
  • Ninety-eight percent of the total population is comprised of black ethnic groups including the Shonas (85%), Ndebele (15%), and Bantu ethnic groups.
  • Life expectancy is 54 years old for men and 53 for women
  • Zimbabwe is home to many well-known writers including: Dambudzo Marechera, Chenjerai Hove, Yvonne Vera, Charles Mungoshi, Tsitsi Dangarembga, and Shimmer Chinodya.
  • It is home to African’s biggest book fair and until recently boasted an exceedingly high literacy rate, surpassing all its neighbors and many European countries.

Book Selected:Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga
Published in: 1988
Literary Awards: Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Best Book in Africa, 1988
Find it here: Nervous Conditions

Reason Selected: Nervous conditions was Dangarembga’s debut novel that was hailed as “one of Africa’s most important novels of the century.” It won the Commonwealth writer’s Prize in 1989. It was the first book in a trilogy and it takes its name from Jean-Paul Sartre’s introduction to Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth. Sartre wrote,” Our enemy betrays his brothers and becomes our accomplice; his brothers do the same thing. The status of ‘native’ is a nervous condition introduced and maintained by the settler among colonized people with their consent.” The book revolves around themes of identity both cultural identity and gender identity. This semi-autobiographical book describes both the struggles of women in Zimbabwe and tensions between colonial whites and black Africans living in Zimbabwe.

Synopsis (from GoodReads): This stunning first novel, set in colonial Rhodesia during the 1960s, centers on the coming of age of a teenage girl, Tambu, and her relationship with her British-educated cousin Nyasha. Tambu, who yearns to be free of the constraints of her rural village, especially the circumscribed lives of the women, thinks her dreams have come true when her wealthy uncle offers to sponsor her education. But she soon learns that the education she receives at his mission school comes with a price. At the school she meets the worldly and rebellious Nyasha, who is chafing under her father’s authority. Raised in England, Nyasha is so much a stranger among her own people that she can no longer speak her native language. Tambu can only watch as her cousin, caught between two cultures, pays the full cost of alienation

Jen’s Review:
It is easy to see why Nervous Conditions is considered an important book for African literature. Dangarembga doesn’t hold back when it comes to describing the situation of women in Rhodesia. It’s a straightforward and powerful coming of age story of a young African woman who has to come to terms with the ways in which both her gender and culture constrain her possibilities. The book centers on the condition of women in Rhodesia while under colonial rule and also touches the surface of racism. In the author interview at the back of the book, the author writes:

I find it difficult to write about race. Perhaps because I feel so strongly about it, having gone through so much as a result of it. I use the past tense, but racist supremacist practices still abound in Zimbabwe, and are perpetrated not only by white people. Everything I have tried to write about it so far has sounded fantastic, absurd and unreal.

Although racism is discussed briefly, Dangarembga openly discusses classes between European and African cultures and how education and opportunities for advancement come from shedding elements of African culture (e.g., giving up Shona language, leaving the country to be educated or striving for education in schools run by missionaries) and becoming more European. What is most interesting about the novel is how Dangarembga captures the inner turmoil for her female protagonist who feels great ambivalence: on the one had respecting and honoring her own cultural traditions but on the other hand espousing certain European belief that require her to change elements of her self that are grounded in her cultural background. Overall an interesting and worthwhile read that I recommend.

Book Worm’s Review:
I really enjoyed this book Tambu is a straightforward narrator. She pulls no punches and is upfront with the reader from 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. For it is not that at all”

This is a story about what it means to be female in a male dominated culture and the sacrifices women have to make to be who they want to be. It’s the story of an entire family that focuses on the women and shows how each woman deals with the hand she has been dealt.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here:Nervous Conditions

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