This year I've been intentional with my choice of books that I've chosen to read. I've chosen to read works from members of marginalised groups and also works that have been translated into the English language. It's a way to reaffirm for me on how to remain authentic in my story-telling, (including research work) and to intentionally create stories from my Indigenous Fijian lens rather than the expected Eurocentric lens,.
Just a heads up before I actually begin with my thoughts on the book, This Mournable Body is part of a trilogy, I myself had no idea of this, until I finished the book. However don't let that put you off from reading it, as the book can be read as a stand-alone without the need to read the first two books.
So my thoughts on the book. It's definitely not for the faint-hearted. But then again, it wouldn't have made it to the shortlist for the Booker Prize if it was. The story is set in Harare, Zimbabwe during the 90s period after the war of independence. Throughout the book, you will find there are references to days when it was known as Rhodesia and unpacking of the layers of colonialism and imperialism that all the citizens have to deal with in the aftermath of the war.
The story is told in the second person narrative, and becomes quite confronting with the actions of the main protaganist, Tambu. It begins with a backstory to how she is slowly spiralling into a desperate situation due to her principled stance on leaving a prestigious job because of her feeling of not being appreciated for the contribution she was making towards the company. Themes of ageism permeates through and manifests itself into feelings of resentment towards those she considers younger. The desperation forces her to engage in work that unravels her mental state. This particular theme is one I feel resonates throughout the entire book. There is a nation reeling from the aftershock of the impact of the war of independence. An entire 2 maybe 3 generation of peoples who are going through the motion of collective PTSD. Generations of people who are left picking up the pieces and having to figure out a way to unlearn colonial systems that have been left in place by the former rulers and in turn propping up their powers even though they were unseated in the war. It trickles down to the everyday citizen like Tambu who understands that in order to survive, one must still navigate through the murky paths of post-colonialism whilst placating the colonialists who feel entitled to speak over Zimbabweans, specifically Shona people. Their agency to decide how and when they allow these colonialists into their spaces dictated by the dire financial situations that most of them are left in.
Tsitsi Dangarembga does a brilliant job in describing the different characters in the book that Tambu encounters and engages with. There are graphic descriptions of physical acts that female characters have to endure which I personally feel is necessary as it adds to the authenticity of Tambu's mental state and also the realities of a female living in a country, post-war. The way that she also describes how women are treated after returning from war as soldiers and those who remained is hauntingly sad. There is a struggle that comes through in her descriptions that these women have to deal with on a daily basis which demands them to do away with their femininity and survive. There is a realistic insight into the price one pays in order to fulfil unrealistic dreams that are heaped onto them as children, which provides for a perefect toxic, festering wound that waitsto open up later in life. Oozing through each orifice that it can find in their physical and emotional health, and taking complete toxic control over the choices one makes.
This book will have you fully enthralled in the storyline right to the end. Tsitsi Dangarembga does each and every character she gives us, the utmost credit and you feel satisfied with the way she ends their journeys. It's definitely going to be on my top 5 of the year recommendations. It also highlights this poignancy of this quote that she wrote just before being arrested earlier this year-
“Friends, here is a principle. If you want your suffering to end, you have to act. Action comes from hope. This is the principle of faith and action.”
She was arrested three days before she was officially nominated for the Booker longlist. She was protesting the misgovernance in Zimbabwe, the clampdown by authorities against dissent, and of course corruption. And now she has made it onto the shortlist, again three days before her official trial is set to begin. Such a bittersweet way to celebrate the masterpiece that she has given us in - This Mournable Body.