Nervous Conditions Book Review

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga A Review

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Title: Nervous Conditions

Author: Tsitsi Dangarembga (first black female Zimbabwean author to publish in English)

Genre: Coming of Age

Pages: 204

An Overview of Nervous Conditions


Set in 1960’s Zimbabwe, Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions tells the story of child protagonist Tambu and the adults around her. Despite growing up under the shadow of her elder brother, Nhamo, and within a rigid, patriarchal society that demands passivity from its females, Tambu clings to the vision of lifting herself out of poverty. Recognizing education as the only viable means for realizing this goal, she struggles against all sorts of familial and social constraints for a seat in the classroom.

The Theme of Gender

Nervous Conditions not only tells the tale of a girl’s societal ascension but also the tales of various women around her. On page one, Tambu underscores that her story is “about my escape and Lucia’s; about my mother’s and Maiguru’s entrapment; and Nyasha’s rebellion”. Bound by the limitations of their social positions, “escape”, “entrapment”, and “rebellion” are really the only three avenues for her and the other women. As Nervous Conditions progress, you quickly realize how the different circumstances surrounding each woman as well as their own mentality have set them up for their fates.

Here’s an extremely in-depth analysis of Men vs. Women  in the book, if this theme particularly appeals to you. Since it picks apart the characters and plot on such a granular level, I recommend diving into the analysis after you’ve finished the book. 

The Theme of Colonization

On top of examining the social structures of black Zimbabwe, Nervous Conditions also demonstrates the sad, inescapable, and sometimes even harrowing effects of white colonial presence. Tambu’s family treats her Anglicized uncle, Babamukuru, like a god for his status as headmaster of a white run missionary school . Babamukuru in turn must appease the missionaries in order to guard his status and livelihood. Nyasha, Babamukuru’s daughter and Tambu’s cousin, feels caught between the white and black world as someone who had spent her childhood in England before returning to Zimbabwe.

Here’s an analysis that examines colonization  in the book to an impressively detailed length. Again, probably a good idea to return to it once you finish the book. 

Honest Personal Thoughts on Nervous Conditions

As I read Nervous Conditions, I couldn’t help but resonate with Tambu and Nyasha’s experiences with the two cultures, people, and languages. I imagine the discomfort young Tambu felt towards Nyasha’s English clothing, her refusal to partake in traditional Zimbabwean games, and her broken Shona was what my cousins felt towards my sister and me when we visited them in China six years back. Nyasha’s failure to fit her parents’ picture of a submissive female after having witnessed English culture reminds me of my own Chinese-American hybrid breeding.

Overall, Nervous Conditions is a deeply introspective novel that teaches readers about the ominous effects of colonialism and gender oppression through the everyday challenges of its characters. Needless to say, these are lessons readers of all backgrounds, from all cultures, at any given point in history–but especially now–can benefit from.  

So what do you think? Wanna give Nervous Conditions a try? Have you read anything else from Tsitsi Dangarembga? Lemme know in the comments below! Let’s continue the discourse. 🙂

You can grab the book HERE 

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