Someplace around the internet there is a reading challenge going on with the subject being African and African writers. Although I have misplaced any notes or posts I may have saved for this challenge, I do remember submitting a half-dozen African titles that I planned (promised?) to read over the next year. Was it last year?
I almost immediately rounded up the books in question so, even without the list, I can fairly accurately reconstruct it for this post.
- Akhenaten by Naguib Mahfouz
- No Longer At Ease by Chinua Achebe
- A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
- We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
- The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola
- Nervous Conditions by Tsiti Dangarembga
I just finished the last title on the list and can honestly say there wasn’t a clunker amongst them all: in fact, I recommend all of these books by African authors and suggest you branch out even further. I’m not African so reading the literature from countries I have no experience with is fascinating and often educational. Besides that, there’s some really good writing going on in Africa that too many jingoists might overlook if they don’t put down the Captain Billy’s Whiz-Bang.
Nervous Conditions is the story of a young girl who grows up and through her intelligence and persistence improves her life and her chances for the future. As you might expect, the key is always education … the more education the better the life.
Although the focus of the novel is the coming of age story of Tambudzai, the life around her is also changing and growing so that a strong secondary theme is the conflict between the old ways and the changes being made by modernization.
The period covered by this novel—Rhodesia in the 1960s—was a part of our social studies when I was in school. From my perspective today, I know that there was a lot of conflict in southern Africa as the old colonialism was, often violently, rejected, but such foreknowledge should not detract from what is a simple and satisfying story of one girl’s struggle to grow and succeed.
I don’t know how autobiographical this novel is but the author has certainly created strongly imagined characters that remain after the book has been finished. What is also interesting is how universal some of the family events seem to be: you sometimes forget that this is Africa and not Iowa.