cover image This Mournable Body

This Mournable Body

Tsitsi Dangarembga. Graywolf (FSG, dist.), $16 trade paper (296p) ISBN 978-1-55597-812-9

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. (Aug.)