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“I was not sorry when my brother died” – Nervous Conditions (1988)

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Last night, amidst the thousands of notes and papers in my bedroom, I bumped into an assignment I did about three years ago on Tsitsi Dangarembga’s marvel of a novel, “Nervous Conditions”.

It almost comes across as cliche when one says (of a book they thoroughly enjoyed) “the author grabbed me with the first line.” And in some instances, I do believe that people just say that to put emphasis on how much they enjoyed the book. Dangarembga, however, really does grab you with the opening line of “Nervous Conditions”. In fact, the first line in that novel is still what I consider to be my favourite, most hard-hitting opening lines in any book I’ve ever read. 

The opening sentence, “I was not sorry when my brother died,”  said by the narrator and protagonist, Tambu, is an opening to her encounter of gender inequality and colonialism in 1960-70s Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

One of my favourite quotations from the novel reads:

“…condemning Nyasha to whoredom, making her a victim of her femaleness, just as I had felt victimised at home in the days when Nhamo went to school and I grew my maize. The victimisation, 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 Babamukuru did it. And that was the problem. You had to admit Nyasha had no tact. You had to admit she was altogether too volatile and strong-willed. You couldn’t ignore the fact that she had no respect for Babamukuru when she ought to have had lots of it. But what I didn’t like was the way that all conflicts came back to the question of femaleness. Femaleness as opposed and inferior to maleness.” – Tambu

I enjoyed this novel so much that if I was ever asked which book I wish I had written or thought of first, my response will always be “Nervous Conditions” by Tsitsi Dangarembga.

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