The Book of Not

The Book of Not, by Tsitsi Dangarembga

A year or two ago I read Nervous Conditions, and have been wanting for some time to read this sequel, The Book of Not.  It was written quite a few years later and I think these are Dangarembga's only two novels; she has also written films and short pieces.

Tambudzai is now attending the pre-eminent girls' boarding school in Rhodesia.  Great things are expected of her, and she badly wants to be an excellent scholar and win at least one prize.  But as hard as she works, life is often too much for her.  The school is almost entirely populated with wealthy white girls, and segregation is in force, so that daily life is filled with difficult social dilemmas of the kind guaranteed to make a teenage girl freeze with anxiety.  She has a hard time getting along with the African girls she shares a room with; in fact, she has a hard time getting along with anyone.  Outside the school, a guerrilla war for Zimbabwean independence rages and makes everyone afraid, and Tambu is alone as she tries to process the trauma of seeing her own sister lose a leg to a land mine.

Tambu's story continues after graduation as she continues to have a difficult time figuring out how to get along with other people.  She works in a few different jobs as Rhodesia becomes independent Zimbabwe, but some things don't change. The novel ends on a difficult and unresolved note, making readers wish for a further book.

I guess you could call it a bildungsroman about the development of a teenage girl, complicated by colonialism and her own prickly personality.  Tambu struggles so much, and there is no final victory such as a simpler story would provide.  Life is just difficult.

Dangarembga is a good writer and I thought it was a great sequel to a book that's been called one of the best novels of African literature.  Nervous Conditions was more about childhood and family, and here Tambu is maturing and facing a hard world.


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