This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga
Updated: Jun 10
The story is set in Harare, Zimbabwe and the main character is a young woman called Tambudzai. Its about her journey and aspirations to make a life for herself, coming from a rural village and with a solid education without privilege or many options, filled with so much hope encounters hardship and detours along the way.
The story is told in the second person, which makes it difficult to understand. Her character doesn’t draw you in immediately; she’s unpredictable, inexperienced and reserved. She is clever though, perhaps cunning. She knows what she wants; she doesn’t reveal much of her personality to protect her interests. She is quite opinionated when it comes to the success of others or other women, which are her own thoughts. She quickly learns to survive in the madness around her, to the detriment of ignoring her own humble beginnings, thinking lowly of her kinsmen. I wasn’t expecting these qualities in the main character; it does make sense when you consider the context of her story.
The themes that come through for me, I can relate to personally. These include: The rural-to-urban migration for a better life especially amongst young people. Education and employment opportunities don’t usually add up, there are not enough jobs to cater for fresh graduates or they lack relevant experience. The cultural and traditional values (even religion) always play a big part, sometimes stifling growth inadvertently. And the unrealistic expectations from families or their communities, nonetheless, are always present. Sometimes its the driving force to seek out a new life in big cities. The current economic context also impacts future prospects, especially for a country with a history of civil unrest and political turmoil. Young women are fully aware of the challenges they face, the odds are stacked up in such situations yet are usually more determined and motivated to make it or prove a point.
This book is a sequel, apparently. So I don’t know if I was missing an important piece of the puzzle. Perhaps I lacked a good understanding of Zimbabwean culture, and its history or people (or views on women). It was a frustrating read, the colourful (not in the vibrant sense) characters and their contribution to the overall narrative was drawn out in some places, insignificant to be honest. Unfortunately, I didn’t warm up to the character and she remained unchanged throughout. She did turn out to be quite resourceful and adaptable, leveraging relationships to secure employment or accommodation where necessary. To that end, and as depressing as it is to admit, there was not much hope going for her and the irony of it all, is that the clue is in the title of the book!
But to end on a high note, there's always a silver lining and like the Zimbabwe saying on the left, its not about limitations but about doing the best with what you still have, for the benefit of others.
I have learned a lot more about Zimbabwe culture, its people and history. Our struggles and aspirations are similar but our values sets us apart in some ways. For that, I am grateful for this book.
Book review written by Leonora Sinclair.
Please check out Miriama Suraki's views on the book at her new website: www.theplatformm.com
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