What a brilliant novel. I read it through the night in two sittings. The characters are so real, never once did I question how the writer Tsitsi Dangarembga thought up their personalities. They are very well written, in-depth with much back bone. In my mind Nyasha and Tambu are as real as the laptop in front of me and what strong unique characters they are like any great novel, I will often think back on them.
The novel is semi-autobiographical told through the eyes of fourteen year old Tambudzai who is brought up in a rural area of 1960’s colonised Rhodesia. Her family is poor and her siblings are described as semi-naked and wearing rags. Her father lives in the shadow of her successful uncle Babamukuru who saves Tambu from her destined path as described by her mother:
“’This business of womanhood is a heavy burden,’ she said. ‘How could it not be? Aren’t we the ones who bear children? When it is like that you can’t just decide today I want to do this, tomorrow I want to do that, the next day I want to be educated! When there are sacrifices to be made, you are the one who has to make them. And these things are not easy; you have to start learning them early, from a very early age…And these days it is worse, with the poverty of blackness on one side and the weight of womanhood on the other. Aiwa! What will help you, my child, is to learn to carry your burdens with strength.’”
Tambu is caught in a heavily patriarchal society, education is only chosen for her oldest brother as is his right being the oldest male in the family. Being the strong character that she is, she fights to go to school, as fortune has it, her brother passes away and being the next oldest sibling in line she goes with her uncle – the principle of a Christian school to live with his family and receive an education.
Nyasha, her cousin was my favourite character, a precocious fourteen year old who is spirited and an independent thinker. One of those rare people who do not care what other people think, she has her own ideas about things. She stands up to her controlling old-fashioned father throughout the book. She is described by some critics as a “hybrid character”- having been schooled in London but coming from a Shona-African culture, she is torn between two worlds and struggles to identify with her fellow peers and even her own family. “‘They’ve trapped us. But I won’t be trapped. I’m not a good girl. I won’t be trapped.’ Then as suddenly as the rage passed. ‘I don’t hate you, Daddy,’ she said softly. ‘They want me to, but I won’t.’…’Look what they’ve done to us,’ she said softly. ‘I’m not one of them and not one of you.’ She fell asleep.”
There are many delicious powerful female characters symbolising the struggle of previous generations as well as the triumph and individuality of what it means to be female and living in a colonised country as a black person. This is an important novel. A classic. It opened my eyes to another world.