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[#DecolonizeBookshelves2022] The Tyranny Of Gratitude in Dangarembga’s “Nervous Conditions” from Zimbabwe

"It would be a marvelous opportunity, she said sarcastically to forget. To forget who you were, what you were and why you were that. The process, she said was called assimilation..." - Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions

Myra here.

Nervous Conditions [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written by Tsitsi Dangarembga Published by Faber Faber (2021, first published 1988) ISBN: 0571368123 (ISBN13: 9780571368129) Literary Award: Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book in Africa (1989) Bought a copy of the book. Book quotes and layout via Canva and Typorama.

This is the ninth book that I am reviewing / featuring as part of our #DecolonizeBookshelves2022 reading theme from my target list of 25 books (for this year) from This Is The Canon: Decolonize Your Bookshelf In 50 Books (Amazon | Book Depository) – and the seventh novel written by a female author.

My book log indicates that I started reading the book on May 23 and finished it on May 27.

In my review, I mentioned the parallels between this book and Abi Dare’s The Girl With The Louding Voice (Amazon | Book Depository – see my review here). Perhaps it was a small relief that compared to Dare’s book, there was no rape or sexual assault in this novel; yet, there was the brutal oppression of poverty and what it means to remain forever in another’s debt, or what I call the tyranny of gratitude.

There is the tension between the burden of having to lift one’s family out of poverty and the cost of doing this starting from the loss of one’s language:

Dangarembga also managed to depict the varying shades of womanhood in Zimbabwe – divided by virtue of class and education (or lack thereof), and united with the overwhelming pressure of patriarchy and societal expectation:

As I have noted in my handwritten notes, the novel also surfaces the double-edged sword of the White missionary’s magnanimity and beneficence, and the dangers of “assimilation” predicated upon power and control and obeisance:

I am very much looking forward to reading Books 2 (The Book Of Not) and 3 (This Mournable Body) in this series. I would love to see whether 13 year old Tambudzai Sigauke’s “fancy private school education” made possible through the sponsorship of White people brought her everything she thought it would – and what it cost her to realize her dreams of being an educated woman.


#DecolonizeBookshelves2022 Update: 54 out of target 100

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

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