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This Mournable Body
Cover of This Mournable Body
This Mournable Body
A Novel
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LONGLISTED FOR THE 2020 BOOKER PRIZE
A searing novel about the obstacles facing women in Zimbabwe, by one of the country's most notable authors

Anxious about her prospects after leaving a stagnant job, Tambudzai finds herself living in a run-down youth hostel in downtown Harare. For reasons that include her grim financial prospects and her age, she moves to a widow's boarding house and eventually finds work as a biology teacher. But at every turn in her attempt to make a life for herself, she is faced with a fresh humiliation, until the painful contrast between the future she imagined and her daily reality ultimately drives her to a breaking point.
In This Mournable Body, Tsitsi Dangarembga returns to the protagonist of her acclaimed first novel, Nervous Conditions, to examine how the hope and potential of a young girl and a fledgling nation can sour over time and become a bitter and floundering struggle for survival. As a last resort, Tambudzai takes an ecotourism job that forces her to return to her parents' impoverished homestead. It is this homecoming, in Dangarembga's tense and psychologically charged novel, that culminates in an act of betrayal, revealing just how toxic the combination of colonialism and capitalism can be.

LONGLISTED FOR THE 2020 BOOKER PRIZE
A searing novel about the obstacles facing women in Zimbabwe, by one of the country's most notable authors

Anxious about her prospects after leaving a stagnant job, Tambudzai finds herself living in a run-down youth hostel in downtown Harare. For reasons that include her grim financial prospects and her age, she moves to a widow's boarding house and eventually finds work as a biology teacher. But at every turn in her attempt to make a life for herself, she is faced with a fresh humiliation, until the painful contrast between the future she imagined and her daily reality ultimately drives her to a breaking point.
In This Mournable Body, Tsitsi Dangarembga returns to the protagonist of her acclaimed first novel, Nervous Conditions, to examine how the hope and potential of a young girl and a fledgling nation can sour over time and become a bitter and floundering struggle for survival. As a last resort, Tambudzai takes an ecotourism job that forces her to return to her parents' impoverished homestead. It is this homecoming, in Dangarembga's tense and psychologically charged novel, that culminates in an act of betrayal, revealing just how toxic the combination of colonialism and capitalism can be.

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Awards-
About the Author-
  • Tsitsi Dangarembga is the author of two previous novels, including Nervous Conditions, winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. She is also the director of the Institute of Creative Arts for Progress in Africa Trust. She lives in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 11, 2018
    Set in Zimbabwe at the end of the 20th century, Dangarembga’s heartbreaking and piercing latest follows Tambudzai—the protagonist of her novel Nervous Conditions—as she wearily approaches middle age. After leaving an unfulfilling job at an advertising agency, Tambudzai finds herself living in a Harare youth hostel. She moves from position to position and home to home after leaving the hostel (“Concerned not to let your newest opportunity float away, you are constantly on the lookout for handholds, like low-lying branches above a raging river, which you can grasp first to balance yourself and, subsequently, to heave yourself upward”), alternating between pridefulness and woeful self-hatred—eventually taking a job teaching biology at a girls’ school that requires no specific training—and fantasizing about the life she’ll someday lead. When her former boss from the advertising agency offers her a position at a glamorous new ecotourism venture, Tambudzai leaps at the opportunity, not realizing how low she will be asked to sink, turning her rural background and her national culture into photo opportunities for European visitors. Tambudzai is an outstanding and memorable character; her struggles always feel real, even with the use of a second-person point of view. This is a smartly told novel of hard-earned bitterness and disillusionment.

  • Kirkus

    June 15, 2018
    A haunting, incisive, and timely glimpse into how misogyny and class strife shape life in post-colonial Zimbabwe.Returning to characters she first introduced in her debut novel, Nervous Conditions (1988), Zimbabwean author Dangarembga situates us in the mind of Tambudzai Sigauke, an educated but insecure and selfish young woman who is plummeting rapidly down her nation's class hierarchy. Bitter after leaving her job at an ad agency "over a matter of mere principle," Tambudzai takes up residence at a hostel while she hatches a scheme to claw her way back up the social ladder. Her scheming eventually takes her to a high school teaching job, where the pressures of teaching unruly students tax her fragile mental health. Driven to rage by her inability to command her students' respect, Tambudzai brutally beats and injures a student named Elizabeth Chinembiri. The event triggers a mental breakdown and sets Tambudzai on a tragic collision course with her estranged family. Narrated in the second person from Tambudzai's perspective, the novel collapses the distance between its readers and its antihero ("You spend most of your time sitting on your bed, brooding over your new misjudgement"). The effect is claustrophobic and alarming, as the reader becomes implicated in Tambudzai's conniving--and sometimes outright immoral--behavior. When she participates in a mob's fevered sexual assault of a female hostel roommate, conspires to lure a married man into infidelity, or steals vegetables from her landlady's garden, it's not just Tambudzai who performs these actions--it's you. Tambudzai's behavior is so persistently self-centered that she can be somewhat flat and unappealing; social advancement is her only motivation, and it can be difficult to sympathize with a character whose moral compass is so degraded. Her flatness is easy to overlook, however, because this novel's true protagonist is the entire nation of Zimbabwe. Tambudzai becomes a stand-in for a society struggling to gain its footing and maintain its soul amid the trauma of civil war and economic and political instability. In terse, stark prose that paints a brutally realist portrait of post-colonial Zimbabwe, Dangarembga turns an appraising eye upon her nation in order to investigate the various inequalities that lie at its heart. This novel's Zimbabwe is a nation populated by cruel mobs, exploitative entrepreneurs, and mercenaries who care only about themselves. Her incisive realism is most effective when dealing with misogyny, especially the vicious violence inflicted on women's bodies. The mournable body of the novel's title turns out to be the collective body of Zimbabwean women.A difficult but ultimately rewarding meditation on the tolls that capitalism and misogyny take on a fledgling nation's soul.

    COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    August 1, 2018

    Not merely to survive but to improve her living conditions and help her family, Tambudzai Siguake gets a good education and leaves behind the heartbreaking poverty she experienced growing up in late 1960s Zimbabwe. She overcomes many obstacles to obtain a professional job where her work will be recognized. After a few jobs go awry, she finds a position as a tourist agent with Eco Travel that brings the desired monetary rewards and a real sense of accomplishment. As the business expands to village tours, a direct, powerful clash with her native traditions and customs bring her the realization that she can trust only family. She gives up her dream of living on a fair, equitable basis with the white colonialists and capitalists who are moving Zimbabwe into an unwelcome future. VERDICT In this sequel to 1998's Commonwealth Writers' Prize-winning Nervous Conditions, which explored Tambudzai's childhood, Dangarembga writes with a graceful eloquence that keeps the pages turning quickly. One hopes a third book will continue the journey of this sympathetic character from an immensely talented author.--Lisa Rohrbaugh, Leetonia Community P.L., OH

    Copyright 2018 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    July 1, 2018
    Zimbabwean author Dangarembga again follows Tambudzai, the main character of her acclaimed first book, Nervous Conditions (1998). Tambudzai now floats between temporary living situations before landing a job working for Green Jacaranda Safaris, an ecotourism company aimed at getting money from the hands of wealthy European visitors looking to witness the grittier realities of African life. To cover any suspicions of exhibitionism, the company markets itself as a way to sensitize guests to the perils of climate change on the continent. In an attempt to get ahead at her new gig, Tambudzai pitches an idea for a new tour: escorting travelers into her impoverished home village for a more rural African experience. While there, she orchestrates a dance performed by female family and friends that flops and only serves to humiliate her loved ones. Set in the immediate aftermath of Zimbabwe's hard-won independence, Dangarembga's third novel is an urgent and unforgettable tale of the dangers of capitalism and colonialism in the developing world.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2018, American Library Association.)

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