Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Reading this book in Ghana was a unique experience. It was amazing to me how the issues seemed to line up with my personal experience that week. Frightening really. I guess I knew that others did not have the same privileges that I did as a woman living in the United States, but it was weird to see that by reading this book and looking at Nyasha, that I had a better perspective on what it means to be a woman at home. Actually, women are not equal. Don't believe me? Tell that to my best friend who got dumped because she wanted a PHD and to keep her own last name. We are much better off than say, the narrator of this book, but being a woman has implications. Perhaps they are just expressed differently, like eating disorders and image obsession. I think this books says a lot about the challenges of being a woman no matter who you are or where you were brought up.
I think that we can see these different expressions with a spectrum of the female characters in this story. Maiguru, mother of Nyasha who has received a masters degree, was a very interesting character. Even though she had the same degree her husband achieved, her accomplishment was hushed up and unacknowledged in the family. She struggles for independence, but seems to only half achieve it when she returns to her husband.
Her husband, Babamukuru, was also central to this story. Even though he seems to be the nice guy, is the helpful family member, shares his money, is successful, etc, he seems to be resented because like it or not he is a man, and that plays an important role in the lives of his household.
By the end of the story I really want Tambu to not forget her struggle like her brother, not let the "Englishness" get to her, but there does seem to be a degree of that. I am unsure of why Dangarembga did that. Maybe it was to be more real to life. Tambu is not supposed to be the ideal hero. She is a voice, and by being more real, maybe she is easier to relate to. If anything I think it speaks to the title of the book. It goes back to Franz Fanon and his idea of the psychological problems that arise when a native is torn between a traditional way of living with a colonial education, which results in a "nervous condition." Perhaps it is inevitable that Tambu achieves this to a degree.
This is a sad narrative, and pretty representative of some people's current views on womens education in my limited experience in Ghana. A great read. I recommend it to anyone.
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