As I had previously read Nervous Conditions, I decided to dive into Dangarembga’s sequel to the novel, The Book of Not. This book picks up (more or less) where Tambu’s story leaves off. It not only details her experience at The Young Ladies’ College of the Sacred Heart, but it also deals with her nation’s transition into independence.
Since most of you probably have not read this novel, I will approach my presentation with questions regarding Nervous Conditions- what major issues are missing, or perhaps secondary in the first novel, and how are they encountered in the sequel? Why do these issues become more prevalent as Tambu grows older, or perhaps as time progresses? There are several major themes, or issues dealt with in the novel which I wish to dissect.
1. War- This novel explicitly addresses Zimbabwe’s intensifying war for independence. The novel begins with a revolutionary meeting of sorts, in which leaders known as “Big Brothers” attempt to gain support from the Africans. This war has countless effects on Tambu’s life. She is seemingly in a state of liminality, as she is resented at the Homestead for being so invested in white culture, but she is also resented by whites for her nationality and the growing tension with which it is associated. Tambu begins adamantly avoiding going home for the holidays (opting to go to the mission instead), but she is also in constant fear of her classmates or teachers finding out that her family is associated with revolutionaries. It is evident that this sense of fragmentation in nation is causing an innate fragmentation in self for Tambu.
A quote to look at deals with this issue in a quite literal way. In this scene, the head nun at Tambu’s school calls in the group of African girls to speak with them about the “security situation deteriorating.” She jokes, “Whatever memoranda they send us, we aren’t going to chop anyone in half, nor in any other portion.” Tambu appeases the nun by laughing at her joke, however she soon reacts bitterly toward the comment, narrating, “But how angry I was with Sister, talking to us like that, making jokes about our flesh and how some people thought it was divisible.” (p. 73)
This quote simply could be a literal comment on racism and the like. But could it also be a metaphoric representation of the emotional and mental fragmentation Tambu is dealing with as her nation becomes fragmented with its fight for independence?
2. “Concentrated Englishness”- At the end of Nervous Conditions we are left with Tambu’s growing guilt and her mother’s fear that her daughter will succumb to Sacred Heart’s more “concentrated Englishness.” However, while reading the novel’s sequel, it is clear that this is an issue that is not so black and white. In my opinion, it is difficult for Tambu to lose her African heritage, because she is treated so blatantly like an African. She, along with the other African girls she shares a dorm room with, are treated differently by their peers and their teachers. They are barred from using the same toilets, and are even forcibly discouraged from physical contact with whites. The intense prejudice and racism she encounters forces her to maintain at least some portion of her African identity, because she will never be accepted by these people as anything but African. However, this gets complicated when she grows to resent her heritage, so desperately wishing to be anyone else.
A quote to discuss that exemplifies this idea occurs after the ‘African dorm’ has been publicly shamed for flushing sanitary napkins down their toilet. Tambu states, “The situation was this: I was in two aspects a biologically blasphemous person…” The first way is that she is a woman, but she describes the second way, as being “the other type of gene that made me look different from the majority of pupils.” (p. 64)
Tambu’s experience of gut-wrenching shame and self-hatred is evident as the novel progresses. Furthermore, blatant racism is not an issue dealt with so explicitly in Nervous Conditions. Do you feel as though this repeated racism would potentially steer her away from the “Englishness” she so desired in the first novel, or do you believe it will only cause her to resent herself and her own heritage even more?
(By the way, I apologize for this being posted so late- I was having issues with WordPress. When I tried to do the ‘quick post,’ is sat there loading for an hour. By some miracle, I happened upon how to do the not-quick post. Anyone have any suggestions, or the same problem?)