Our second book of the year was Zimbabwean writer Tsitsi Dangarembga's third novel, This mournable body, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2020. It proved to be a challenging but ultimately worthwhile choice.
First impressionsOne of us loved the novel from the start. She engaged with the second person voice and enjoyed the novel's exploration of "the personal is the political" through its protagonist. She liked how the voice conveyed the character's remoteness or dissociation from her "self", versus a third person voice which tends to provide a more objective commentary or first person voices which tend to be more intimately confessional.
- initially thrown by the voice, largely due to the narrator's fluctuating state of mind, the scenario-style, and the story's focus on cruelty, but started to get into it by part two, and ended up loving it.
- found the beginning hard and confronting, but then began to appreciate it.
- struggled early on, but found reading some background about the book was helpful in giving her the boost she needed to find stimulation in the story.
- found its disjointed nature off-putting, but liked aspects such as the little kindnesses Tambu meets along the way and how Dangarembga conveyed Tambu's paranoia. Suggested that it's refreshing to read a book by a black female author.
- found it difficult get into, but was interested in its discussion of ecotourism and poverty interesting. Came to enjoy the writing style, and appreciated the wide variety of issues the book explores.
- also found it hard at the start, but suggested that it's a good example of why we read books, which is to experience the lives of others that we would otherwise know nothing about. Was interested to see what happened to this once rich African country, and particularly the impact of the West, of Mugabe, the sexism, violence, racism.
- was surprised to find it hard to get into because is sympathetic to Zimbabwe. Put it aside and picked it up again too late to finish, but found that it started to make sense in part 2 when Tambu is in the mental institution.
The hyena laughs as you enter the gate. It has slunk once more as close to you as your skin, ready to drag away the last scraps of certainty you have preserved the moment you falter ...
Evening light drips shadows onto her skin, thickening the knots of swelling, deepening lacerations.
You have seen this manner before, this being where the body is and not being there, in your sister Netsai, who went to war, who lost a leg, and who said to you when they said there was peace, “Yes, I went and I am here but I never came back. Most of the time I’m still out there wandering through the grass and sand, looking for my leg.”
Blood and womb are recurring images in the novel, referring, we felt, to the vulnerable position of women in Zimbabwean society as well as, more broadly, to the war and violence the country had experienced. There is quite a bit of description in the book about the impact of war on those who fought in it:
The women from war are like that, a new kind of being that no one knew before, not exactly male but no longer female.
Your smile attaches itself to your face more tenaciously as your anxiety increases.
The question was asked whether we would recommend this book to others. Most said yes, but would accompany it with a warning or some preparation.