The Book Of Not by Tsitsi Dangarembwa – a review

I bought The Book Of Not in 2010. I waited 3 years to read it. The first time I opened the book, I felt overwhelmed with anticipation. I was not sure that if I read the book in between my busy schedule I would be able to savor every word. So, I waited 3 years to read it. After finishing my studies, on my long commute to and from work, and night classes I found the perfect space to read The Book Of Not.

The prequel to The Book Of Not, Nervous Conditions was and still is the book that drew me in with the first sentence, “I was not sorry when my brother died.” I did not expect to read those words, even in a fictional novel. With that in mind I dug through the whole book, Nervous Conditions, to find out why someone would utter such callous a statement. With that first sentence, I had already had an unfavourable opinion of Tambudzai Sigauke, the protagonist.

As I read through Nervous Conditions I found out that Tambudzai had very much the same experience as women in African society, being overlooked because of their gender. She was very much capable as her brother. I could see my mother, my sisters in her fortitude. More so I saw the pressure that most Zimbabwean children are put through. The pressure to succeed in school. The pressure to be that beacon of hope that comes out of a village. The pressure to be educated and still keep the humility, the language and culture of your people.

In The Book Of Not, the story takes place during Zimbabwe’s Second Chimurenga (War of Independence). For those who are born after 1980, the ‘Born Frees’, the war is just a story. We did not see it for ourselves the struggles that everyone had to go through. Those who participated in the war only speak of the ideology of the war, not the experience. The last time I encountered a novel set during the war was in the book, White Men, Black War.

Tambudzai Sigauke’s experiences during the Second Chimurenga are through her school mates, her sister, and her uncle. They paint the personal loses of war; death, maiming, and physical abuse. One could say, the author decided to balance the effects of war on “both sides” of the conflict. For me the war theme was one I had to talk about first, because it is not a happy one.

In Zimbabwe in particular and Southern Africa in general we like to pullout the big English words. One word I heard a lot growing up was perseverance. I am sure a lot of Zimbabweans are named perseverance.  I took perseverance to mean the fortitude to pursue one’s goals and dreams. Tambudzai wanted to be the best at Sacred Heart, and do right by her uncle. To be brilliant it requires a bit of sacrifice, you have to sacrifice relationships, you have to build new ones. Lastly, not everyone is going to like the choices you make.

Tambu found herself a nemesis in her dorm mate, Ntombi. Ntombi, who seemed not to feel the need to curry favour with people. Tambu seemed the need to be cordial. Ntombi and Tambu’s opposite personalities clash through out the book.

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