Skip to content

This Mournable Body

This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga

As seen:

  • Booker Prize 2020

By Tsitsi Dangarembga

avg rating

12 reviews

Find your local library.

Buy this book from to support The Reading Agency and local bookshops at no additional cost to you.

In this tense and psychologically charged novel, Tsitsi Dangarembga channels the hope and potential of one young girl and a fledgling nation to lead us on a journey to discover where lives go after hope has departed. Here we meet Tambudzai, living in a run-down youth hostel in downtown Harare and anxious about her prospects after leaving a stagnant job.

At every turn in her attempt to make a life for herself, she is faced with a fresh humiliation, until the painful contrast between the future she imagined and her daily reality ultimately drives her to a breaking point.

Resources for this book


16 Dec 2020

Reading Group review

I was very interested to read this book. I found it difficult to read at first and often had to re read to get the sense of the way the sentence was put. But realising that, that was the characters, the way they thought or spoke, did help.

I felt the story portrayed the people of Zimbabwe trying to get on with their lives after civil war.

The main character Tambudzia was to my mind suffering from depression. Her education has not got her where she thought it would. She carries a great burden of not being who she would like to be and can’t face her family and village unless she can be proud of herself. She can only blame others for her problems.

The story I think is painting a picture of people trying to make their way in life. In Zimbabwe they are starting after a civil war where the majority are realising they can take charge. There are white people who most definitely will be starting with an advantage, but the majority are trying to catch up.

We know or understand Zimbabwe struggling. This story gave me a good insight to that struggle.

It was a hard read at times, very pleased I was able to read it.

18 Nov 2020

[email protected]

This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga – A Review

(London: Faber, 2020)

Hyenas, mealie meal, and a fish in a mirror: a study in the dying of dreams

This is not a book that sits easy. No reason why it should. It is tackling painful topics: the disintegration of a self and a nation; the legacies of colonialism in modern Zimbabwe and the collective and personal traumas they have wreaked; the heartache of broken dreams and repeated failures. That this tale should be the final part of a trilogy following the fortunes (rather here the misfortunes) of the protagonist, Tambu, now a middle-aged women on a downward trajectory, presents more challenge to the reader coming at her anew.

The use throughout of the second person and the often dreamy language of image and illusion makes penetration of the text even more difficult at times. Tsitsi Dangarembga (currently on bail in Zimbabwe following her arrest during anti-corruption protests earlier this year) may have attempted to do just too much without providing sufficient scaffolding for the reader but, nevertheless, many aspects of this ambitious work have been done very well. The uneven nature of the finished product should not prevent appreciation of some of its parts and the courage of the author both in setting her bar high and writing such a work in such dangerous circumstances is to be commended.

To be greatly enjoyed are the convincing descriptions Dangarembga offers at times, including use of sharp detail and striking simile and metaphor. This includes the vivid picture she paints of the Market Square where ‘plastic sachets swell like drunkards’ bellies’ and urchins suck at them ‘as at a mother’s nipple’ or the Fourth Street Bus Terminus where ‘airtime, vegetables, mazhanje and matohwe fruit’ are on sale. Perhaps this skill is at its strongest when she is describing the interior experience of breakdown and finding oneself in hospital: the terrifying dialogue with the hyena that ‘laugh-howls’ at Tambu’s destruction; the nurse whose ‘eyes flash like sharpened kitchen knives’; the discovery that one is ‘the pool’, lost in a deluge of weeping that is an ocean that ‘pours from your eyes without end’.

With such exquisite writing, such insightful awareness of the mind in collapse, such feeling for the decline of hope, and such skillful use of the second person to suggest the dissociation often necessary to bear such painful realities, I really wanted to like this book more than I did. I felt frustration at not knowing how Tambu and the Zimbabwe she personifies had come to this. I am fairly sure that my sense of being only half-engaged and my lack of empathy for the protagonist stemmed from being one of those readers who is only joining Tambu’s journey in these last stages. That reading two earlier works should be so vital to full appreciation of this third makes it a questionable choice for the Booker shortlist although the quality and bravery of the writing goes a long way towards earning the book its place. It would be a dream come true for those that care deeply about Zimbabwe, Tsitsi Dangarembga and their entangled futures if This Mournable Body were to carry away the prize.

Bernadette Lynch
Writers' Reading Group, MAC, Birmingham

16 Nov 2020


"What were you thinking?"

There has been some discussion around Tsitsi Dangarembga's decision to write in the second person in her final book of the Trilogy about Tambu, set in pre-and post Independence Zimbabwe, departing from the third person she used in the previous two novels charting Tambu's childhood and adolescence. She herself indicate that Tambu is trying to put some distance between the person she has become, and the person she thought she would be. It also gives an accusatory voice to the novel: a “what were you thinking?” that is a constant nagging refrain, like a malevolent Jimminy Cricket on her shoulder
It opens with an image of a monstrous fish: Tambu's revolt at seeing herself in the mirror. Throughout the novel she recoils from herself and her actions. In one telling passage she finds herself picking up a stone to join in with the humiliation of a fellow hostel-dweller: 
“You do not shrink back as one mind in your head tells you. Instead you obey the other.” The use of the second person here, I feel, heightens the shcocking nature of this scene: we are watching the scene with Tambu, observing her joining in with the mob, ignoring her better mind.
As the novel progresses she resigns fom her lucrative job. This would have been a splendid rebuff to the white patriarcy if only she had been honest about her reason (she has again been denied a prize), but she leaves a note saying that she is leaving to get married. She is then homeless and poor, ending up in a squalid room in a boarding house run by an elderley woman who is bullied by her adult sons.
The reappearance of the bag of mealy meal, symbol of Tambu’s village childhood, sends her into a paroxysm of self-recrimination. In her shabby room she reflects on her fall, that “while you were educated, you have nevertheless become a failure.” She avoids speaking to her landlady for fear that “you will …divulge too much about your family’s circumstances.” For all her self-recrimination she cannot escape. She is three times a victim: black, rural and a woman in a society where, even after independence, to be white, male and urban counts for something. The strong black women in the novel-and there are many strong women-have all managed to break free fom these bonds. Nyasha goes to Europe and marries a European who- shock-does the cooking, Lucia and Christine by fighting for independence. Even her downtrodden, uneducated and abused mother manages to get some education and become an important woman in the village. Tambu finds it impossible to break free. The bag of mealy meal, a gift from her mother, the refences to the family totem, the many references to wombs, all speak to the childhood she cannot shake free from. In the end, it is a terrible denial of her race and culture, her “ubuntu”, that precipitates her final fall. Tambu becomes Zimbabwe, caught in the struggle to become a modern, independent nation while retaining a sense of nationhood.
Ros Napier

10 Nov 2020


Kashmir Tutt The Reader’s Writing Group.

Since This Mournable Body is individually nominated for the Man Booker prize 2020 I decided not to read the first two books from the trilogy.

The author manages to provide sufficient background throughout the narrative for the reader to learn that the child, Tambudzai came from a poor village and worked hard to pay for her own education. In chapter eight there is a summative telling of the chronology of her adolescent years and early experiences. Unavoidably I did learn that there are other cultural details that would make the story richer if the reader had the background knowledge of Tambudzai’s struggles, but the absence of this information does not detract from the enjoyment of the immediate text. If anything, they raise questions regarding her relationship with her mother, her cousin Nyasha, Christine, and her aunt Lucia. The lack of prior knowledge forces a closer reading of the story and leads to a gradual understanding that a deeper and intriguing backstory exists, which then encourages readers to seek out the previous books.

My review of This Mournable Body is in the form of a letter to Zimbabwe and Tambudzai who I think represent each other.

The Letter

You teeter about uncomfortably in your European heels which do not suit your environment or your needs. You do it because that is what you learned from your colonizers. You do it for your survival, to escape the shackles of your impoverished history, but whether it is past colonial rulers, current governments, the rich, or simply men, it has caused you to become self-serving to the detriment of the weak, the poor and the uneducated. Independence wars and the end of apartheid has not only left you struggling against the enemy without, but also against the enemy within. You are at the mercy of corrupt politicians, brutal independence fighters and guerrilla groups who have worsened your poverty, increased unemployment, intensified racial and gender inequalities, and have left you with a mass psychological disorder.

You forget that your life source is your village; the village is your mother. You imagine that all Europeans are wealthy but your aspirations to emulate Europe, the U.S, and Britain means that you play into the hands of the neo-colonialists. When you sold your village for the dollar you sold your mother and the very roots of your existence. You have tried to escape the poverty of the village and to make a Western-style success of yourself, but do you even understand what real ‘success’ is in Africa?
The possessions and position of power you desire are your unravelling. While you yearn for something external, you fail to recognise and appreciate the wealth from within because you measure your accomplishments against others’, who do not have the same qualities as you.

You became alienated from your Mother-village when you got ‘educated’, but the only education you received was to the benefit of the colonial rulers and the white elites. It did not provide you with the upward mobility that you had expected, you were never an equal on the same playing field. Your education was not so much a ‘step up’ but rather a ‘step into’ existing institutions where you were no more than a cog in a system they left behind. A system already set up in their favour, forever producing wealth from your rich resources which vaporised into back pockets and capital flight. You were always going to have your arm up against your back and forced to submit to terms that went against your own development.

When you were a fledgling, you worked hard and with determination which enabled you to achieve something important, but you were not shrewd enough to recognise the real value of your advancement, and now as an adult you have an unhealthy competitive determination to be the best on the platform of success. But that platform you are on has unsuitable structures and is only temporary, it will always collapse under you. You will remain weak because of your underdog status.
You want to escape your Mother-village and the poverty it represents. You want to insulate yourself ‘from the shocks that result from engaging too much with white people’ (p. 105) and to get away from your one legged sisters and the people who ‘hark back to the days of war and injustice’. So now you don’t fit in anywhere. That is because your education is merely a level of competence, a rotting piece of paper that shows you are ‘qualified’. It doesn’t teach you to see the world differently. Your village mentality of upward mobility is only about accumulating material wealth, and achieving the highest status amongst organisations and people, who are not working towards your advancement but only towards their own.

You need to look to yourself and see the riches under your feet, and to understand that your progress lies in the roots of the Mother-village. Don’t sell off your wealth to copy a way of existence that is foreign to your nature, use it to improve your own. Your way of life is not inferior. Why cannot you see or understand the riches that your Nyasha-women possess even amidst their worm ridden homes and villages. Nyasha-women are your future. Support and empower them. Look back to yourself from your Western learning and see what Nyasha-women can achieve. When you physically attack your Gertrude’s, it reflects the condition of your whole nation: that Gertrude is violated by the people in broad daylight, is mirrored by the violation of you by your state in full view of the watching world. You have been raped not only by exploitative Western governments but even your own.

Hear the message your mother sends in the mealie meal: Sadza re masikai, sadza re manheru (sadza in the afternoon, sadza in the evening). Maise is an important part of you, it is your principle commodity. Don’t run from it. Take off your disabling European shoes, and run in your Bata plimsolls alongside Nyasha-women to reclaim your Mother-village, and your Zimbabwean soul.

07 Nov 2020

Beryl Oppenheim

Leaping recklessly between finishing “Nervous Conditions” and starting “This Mournable Body” brings a jolt of shock. In the final part of Tsitsi Dangarembga’s powerful trilogy, we find her anti-heroine Tambu homeless, unemployed, approaching middle-age, single and unloved, and filled with anger, disappointment and self-loathing. The entire novel is written in the second person and although one (you/I?) becomes quickly used to this there remains an uncomfortable and disconcerting merging of self between the narrator and the reader, so that the reader feels complicit and drawn in to the unfolding events.
This Mournable Body is not an easy read, Dangaremgba challenges you, the reader, throughout. Tambu is not easy to like, or understand. On occasions while reading I did wonder whether the novel, at this moment in time shortlisted for the Booker prize, truly stands alone, or whether an understanding of Tambu’s backstory becomes important as we try to fathom her current situation. In common with so many black people growing up in Southern Africa in the middle of the 20th century, Tambu was seduced by the promise of education as a guarantee for a better life, and gave up her identity, family and friends in this pursuit. We hear about the convent where she was one of the lucky ones, Black girls allowed to attend and gain the benefits of a “white” education, while having to live in separate, crowded dormitories and keep to segregated toilet and bathing facilities where the fortunate Black girls were banished to prevent them from infecting their white contemporaries with their blackness.
Tambu tries to conform, to be grateful, but a life of injustice finally explodes and she resigns from a job where her white colleagues were taking the credit for her work. And suddenly finds herself among the very people she had endeavoured to escape from. Dangaremgba does not flinch from showing us humanity at its worst in inner city Harare in the late 20th Century, a city filled with litter, vermin, homelessness, unemployment, fuelled by corruption, and pitting citizen against citizen in their fight for survival. Why are we surprised, or disappointed, in human behaviour in this setting, as we watch the community turn against itself, each one willing to advance if necessary by climbing over the remains of each other, men against women, young against old, only those with the right connections willingly gaining advantage over their fellow men. Still the horror is encapsulated by a scene where a young woman known to Tambu, fashionably dressed and in sky high heels, tries to climb into a Harare “combi” and is thrown to the ground, mocked, jeered at, with objects thrown at her. She pleads for help from Tambu, who lifts a stone to join in the violence, but eventually drops it to the ground.
Dangarembga leaves the reader to find out more about the impacts of colonialism and the devastating war of independence on our own -we are only shown the remnants and outcomes of these existential events for the country. Traces of colonialism remain in the glass-fronted cabinet housing china teacups and a tarnished silver tea service in the house where Tambu rents a room at the beginning of the novel, and in the scones and jam used to seduce the female participants in the workshops arranged by Tambu’s cousin Nyasha. White people drift in and out of the action, their insubstantiality highlighting their irrelevance in the turbulence of the country. Nyasha’s German husband is a well-meaning and supportive contrast to the casual domestic violence we are relentlessly subjected to, while Tambu’s old school friend and employer Tracey is almost a caricature of an aspirational but ruthless young woman more than willing to exploit local populations and culture in her efforts to become a successful business woman.
For me the book seemed divided into two parts – the slow build-up to Tambu’s mental breakdown and partial healing, followed by an almost surreal breakneck dash through her disastrous employment as an eco-tourism guide. I was relieved by a conclusion where Tambu seemed to find some sense of her identity and place in the world, but was left with a sense of unease about whether this hope for Tambu, or the troubled country she became a metaphor for, was in any way likely to be lasting.

01 Nov 2020


Karam Ram for the Writer's Reading Group

There are plenty of other reviews that summarise the story in, This Mournable Body, and put it in its larger context as the final book in a trilogy by the Zimbabwean author, Tsitsi Dangarembga.

The question though is, what is the purpose of the literary novel and does Tsitsi Dangarembga achieve this? For me, the literary novel’s power partly lies in its ability to create and convincingly put us inside a character’s head and see their situation, with all the inconsistencies, conceits and subterfuge that self-awareness allows. That self-awareness may be deeply damaged and alienated, and this certainly seems the case with the book’s protagonist, Tambudzai, who is presented to us in the second person so as to heighten that sense of alienation. She is depressed and barely able to function and is just as outside herself as she is to the other characters who she spends her time trying to avoid.

Tambudzai, it seems to me, is an anti-hero but unlike, Holden Caulfield, in The Catcher in the Rye, her profound alienation isn’t born of the “phoniness” of a post-war American consumerist society. Her situation is post-war Zimbabwe in the 1990s, a country that has not come to terms with its violent liberation struggle for independence from white rule. That pall of despair that Dangarembga so powerfully evokes can be clearly seen in the other characters around her, such as in her landlady:

“The landlady is still for a moment, like a woman who has departed to sit beside her sibling. Her words open up a void, out of which troop your own wounded and dead. You regard your memories from afar, and finally turn away from them.”

It is also evidenced by the hypocritical, schizophrenic and misogynistic attitudes to morality and violence that “God fearing people” display when Gertrude, a young woman, and fellow hostel mate of Tambudzai’s is attacked for having dressed inappropriately in public: an assault that Tambudzai is complicit in.

This is a powerful, beautifully written book, that requires effort and has shades of Toni Morrison in its themes and style. That sense of intergenerational trauma, in which the public is the private and vice versa, is well rehearsed and has an urgency born from direct lived experience in Zimbabwe today.

31 Oct 2020


I found This Mournable Body hugely absorbing. As it is the third book in a trilogy, I chose to read the first two books (Nervous Conditions and The Book of Not) just before I read this one. Therefore the story of the central protagonist, Tambu, was very fresh in my mind and I was keen to find out where her life would lead. For this reason, I do wonder to what extent I would have engaged with the book, had I not read the previous books. Though there are many references to earlier events in Tambu's life, This Mournable Body only touches the surface of them. I feel that reading the trilogy as a whole gives the reader a richer connection to the psychology of Tambu, especially as she can be described as an anti-hero. She is often hostile but this is because she has been beaten down herself by injustice time and time again as detailed in the earlier books. Tsitsi Dangarembga makes the interesting stylistic choice of using the second person throughout this book and I felt it helped bring me closer to Tambu and empathise with her.

The character of Tambu is inextricably linked with Zimbabwe and her struggles mirror those of the country. There are themes of independence, disillusionment and alienation. I found the exploration of post-colonial identity particularly interesting and important as well as the push and pull of the village/the past which Tambu finds stifling with the city of Harare/the future where she now lives and which has given her professional opportunities and chances to progress but at the cost of not recognising her in her own right. She excels at copywriting but is unable to put her name to her work and has therefore quit her job. We meet her at the start of this book jobless and in need of new accommodation. What follows is a close observation of Tambu and her struggle to move forward both economically and emotionally - to confront past traumas. We see her act cruelly and even with violence. Such scenes are written with precise details missing which has the effect of the reader not coming to understand exactly what happened until later, only when Tambu is ready to process the events herself as she gradually recovers from a breakdown.

Tsitsi Dangarembga's prose is beautiful and very evocative. She presents us with many striking images and there is recurrent symbolism - e.g. a bag of mealie meal (a gift from Tambu's mother) which she can't seem to get rid of just like she can't shake off the invisible umbilical cord connecting her to her village; a severed leg in a tree (her sister's) a looming reminder of the violence of independence and its consequences/changed landscape. Though the book is psychologically tense, there were many instances of dark humour too, in particular on the psychiatric ward when Tambu is constantly being thought by an old white woman, to be her daughter.

Overall, I found this book thoroughly immersive. I came to the trilogy knowing very little about Zimbabwe and its history and I feel all the richer for having gone on this journey with the character of Tambu, not least in This Mournable Body - where Dangarembga's use of the second person made me feel like I was sitting on Tambu's shoulder.

29 Oct 2020

Jackie Beavan

This Mournable Body is the final book in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s stunning trilogy following the life of Tambudzai (Tambu) Sigauke. The first two books depict her struggle to pull herself out of her poverty-stricken roots to become educated and move up in the world, a venture that does not go well.

In this third book, Tambu’s journey takes her through a long, dark night of the soul, each setback worse than the last until an unexpectedly violent act plunges her into chaos and darkness. Unlike the first two books, this one is written in second person, which allows the narrator to tell her story from a horrified distance but pulls the reader in closer. Tambu finds herself in a no-man’s land, not the subsistence-level existence of her childhood but neither is it the respectable, prosperous place of her dreams. Instead it is a kind of purgatory where she is found wanting by those she wants to emulate and the family she has left behind. Not that she can ever truly leave her family behind, as her mother’s sack of mealie meal turns up to haunt her wherever she is, so potent, it is almost a character in its own right.

In many ways, Tambu’s situation echoes the plight of her country, the independent Zimbabwe that has shaken off the yoke of colonialism but has not reaped the benefits of the promised land. It has come through so much but life is still precarious and dogged by the ghosts of the past.

The beacons of hope in this dangerous landscape are the strong women who provide role models for the tortured Tambu, although she doesn’t know it at the time. Amongst these are her cousin, Nyasha, who having fought her own demons, now runs courses to help young women to improve their lives. There are also the war veterans, Christine and Aunt Lucia, who have seen hell close up, and now face life with stoicism and determination. These three women provide the turning point for Tambu when she is at her most wretched. Indeed, Christine is perhaps what Tambu must become if she is to survive.

“Christine has that layer under her skin that cuts off her outside from her inside and allows no
communication between the person she once believed she could be and the person she has in fact

This is not an easy read and we learn some uncomfortable truths both about life in Zimbabwe and about Tambu. Dambgarembga paints the most violent scenes with an impressionist’s brush, so that the horror is conveyed as much by what is left out as by what is said, and it is all the more powerful as your imagination takes over and you try to work out what is going on. The brutal treatment of a young woman of Tambu’s acquaintance who is trying to get on a minibus leaves you in a state of shock when you piece together what is actually happening, not least because Tambu relishes the scene and is ready to join in.

By the end of the book, there is some kind of resolution for Tambu but so much has to be endured to get to that point that it seems partial and conditional. The end of the trilogy but not the end of the story!

29 Oct 2020


This book was really like nothing I had ever read before. It throws you in right from page one with an intense second person prose that, combined with the protagonist Tambudzai’s emotional instability/fragility and the rawness of the material (soon witnessing a public sexual assault), I found quite hard and unsettling. I had to push myself to keep going – feeling delicate as I do myself at the moment in the midst of a global pandemic! – knowing that I was going to have to talk intelligently about it.

I found I was able to admire this writing … the innovation in the writing style, the piercing prose – but struggled to engage emotionally with it. I didn’t find myself swept into the story. Indeed, occasionally I found myself rather lost as to what was going on. As the third in in a trilogy where I had not read the first two, I did wonder how much of the nuance of the story I was missing, but I also suspect that I was missing cultural references and there was something in the evasiveness of the writing that probably reflected the temperament and mental health of the protagonist, but that did not help me as a reader. I think it contributed to a sense when I reached Tambudzai’s violent breakdown that I just hadn’t found the build up sufficient to justify the act.

Nonetheless, I did get a lot from reading the book and found myself more absorbed by it as the story progressed and I acclimatised to the style. I particularly enjoyed aspects of the story such as Nyasha’s attempts at local political action and Christine’s compelling enigmatic presence. There were also a few thrilling moments of writing brilliance and I want to pick out two that relate to Tambudzai’s experience of white people, and her own (conflicted, post-colonial, national) identity, which were the moments I found myself empathising most with her:

“Piece by piece you devise a plan. You will go somewhere where there are no people like the landlady’s niece, who constantly hark back to the days of war and injustice. At the same time, you must insulate yourself from the shocks that result from engaging too much with white people.”

“You take a seat. The chair is hardboard on a metal frame, like the one in the classroom. You do not want to sit on it. Dr. Winton looks at you refusing. Something tells you you cannot keep refusing while the white woman looks at you, so you sit.”

28 Oct 2020


Our County library ‘Superreaders’ group was chosen via The Reading Agency as one of the national reading groups to ‘shadow’ the Booker Prize shortlist. We were assigned ‘This Mournable Body’ by Tsitsi Dangarembga. What follows is my experience.

Tambudzai (Tambu) is currently living in a run-down youth hostel in downtown Harare. She’s aware that she might be asked to leave due to her age. She is in her late 30s, so not an unreasonable request. She is also anxious about her prospects after leaving a stagnant job. She takes a teaching position that doesn’t go well. The contrast between the future she imagined and her daily reality ultimately drives her to a breaking point.

This is the final book of Tsitsi Dangarembga’s semi-autobiographical trilogy that opened with ‘Nervous Conditions’ in 1988. It had chronicled Tambudzai’s girlhood in Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe) in the 1960s. The second book, ‘The Book of Not’, was published in 2006 and picked up Tambu’s story and focused on her further education and subsequent desire to get as far away from her home village as possible.

After reading a detailed synopsis of this second book it appears to have concluded with Tambu leaving her job as a copywriter after a white colleague is unfairly given credit for her work. This leads naturally into the opening of ‘This Mournable Body’.

While some aspects of Tambu’s earlier life are provided, I feel that I would have fared better if I had sought out details of the earlier novels in advance. I found older Tambu quite difficult to empathise with and this might have been different if I followed her journey throughout the trilogy. As I appreciate that this trilogy is an important work of African literature, I am hoping to read the novels in order in the near future.

‘This Mournable Body’ is written in the second person, which I found a difficult narrative style to engage with. There were episodes in the novel that definitely held my attention: Tambu’s frustration with her distracted students, her stay in a mental hospital, which was harrowing, and the surreal nature of the Eco Village Transit tourism venture.

I ended up going back and reading it a second time, which definitely improved my experience. Even so, I continued to feel as if I was looking in on Tambu’s life from a distance.

Not having read the rest of the shortlist it is difficult for me to access how ‘This Mournable Body’ fares as a possible winner.

27 Oct 2020


I found this book readable and informative about Zimbabwe. However it worried me that this had been submitted for a prize, when in fact it is the last part of a trilogy and I feel that all three books should be considered together. I definitely felt that I needed to know the back story in order to fully appreciate what was happening. I could understand the main character's determination to improve her situation, but she made so many mistakes that I couldn't warm to her. I also question the decision to include yet another depressing book in a shortlist particularly when most people are feeling low due to the current pandemic.

26 Oct 2020

Emily D

This is the third book in a trilogy ('Nervous Condition' was published in 1988 and 'The Book of Not' in 2006) and while reading it, I felt it would have been useful to have read the first books to really get to know the character of Tambudzai as her background/wider family. The book is written in the second person which meant I was thrown into the character from page one but made this a challenging book to read. Many of the subjects that feature are difficult ones - from sexual violence, domestic abuse and misogyny to issues of race, class and mental health - and at times, the bleakness of the novel almost made me put it down for a while. Having said that, some of the language used was beautiful and phrases really powerful - I particularly liked "You stand up again because sitting is heavier than standing" which encapsulates a feeling of helplessness, of not being able to be still and needing to move when facing a tough situation.
The portrayal of women is interesting - there are those you feel empathy for and those who treat other characters in the book with contempt to the point that the reader really does not like them much. It paints a very vivid and bleak picture of life in Zimbabwe during the period the novel is set, with oppression and corruption rife and everyone seemingly judging everyone else on their actions, behaviour, background and upbringing.
I found the journey that Tambudzai goes on through this novel very interesting - coming to terms with aging, with her situation in life and how society treats her and those around her, whether they are women, from a low class or depending on their skin colour. I'm not sure that I liked her as a character though I did have sympathy for her at times.

Latest offers

View our other programmes