Number of Pages: 284
1st Published in the USA by Graywolf Press 2018
Personal Rating: 7/10
Before I start on my review, it’s important for me to mention that this book was shortlisted in The 2020 Booker Prize and that its author has in 2021, been honored with the Peace Prize of The German Book Trade.
This Mournable Body follows the story of middle-aged, educated Tambudzai Sigauke, who is jobless at the start of the story and has to live in a hostel with women who are much younger than she is. This unexpected turn of events in her life, has ended up producing a bitter, lacking in self belief, selfish, jealous and lacking in empathy Tambu, as she is known for short. I must admit that I disliked this character’s personality but not the story itself.
From the hostel, Tambu moves into Mai Manyanga’s house, a wealthy widow who is subletting and it is then that various themes in the story unfold. We are soon confronted with family tensions over property involving Mai Manyanga and her scheming sons, the lasting effects of war and particularly on women, as well as the despair attached to being well educated but barely able to support oneself due to joblessness that Tambu suffers. It is in this house that a housemate ends up sexually abused by a fellow housemate and again, a lack of empathy in Tambu is quite evident, as was the case with a former hostel mate, who is nearly stripped naked at the Combi Park for being indecently dressed in her presence.
But not only is there a despair in the main character for not having achieved as much as she would have expected, there is also a deep contempt for her poor background. As a result, she has not been home in years and does not communicate with her loved ones. Eventually, all these issues that Tambu is battling boil over and she ends up hospitalized in a mental institution after an incident at a school she is briefly employed in. Her next accommodation after she’s discharged is at her cousin’s Nyasha, who is married to the German, Leon. And while Nyasha is gracious enough to offer her cousin some help in rebuilding her life, Tambu is contemptuous of the fact that she and her white husband are struggling financially.
A chance encounter with a former colleague ends in her getting a job at an eco-tourism agency. Here, the former colleague becomes her boss and Tambu is forced to forget the systemic racism she endured at the place they previously worked at, just to improve her livelihood. And indeed, it improves for a while until the bad attitude and tendency to ruin things for herself, rear their ugly heads yet again, for it seems like life in Tambu’s terms, is never fair to her.
This Mournable Body starts on a very slow pace, with conversational parts that are rather confusing at times, but picks up eventually as the story progresses. In it you gain an understanding of the issues that a post-colonial Zimbabwe faces, as it struggles to overcome its past and embrace what it hopes will be a prosperous future. The story is told in 2nd person and this makes Tambu’s story so personal as you get to be thrust in her shoes, in order to make sense of what she is going through and how her experiences have shaped how she has turned out to be.
This Mournable Body is the 2nd book in a trilogy so I realize that I may have to read the 1st and 3rd books to get a better sense of the story. All in all, by the time I got to the end, I realized that unlikeable Tambu had surprisingly, captivated me enough to be interested in reading more about her. Now I can’t seem to get the 2nd person “you” from my head when writing.
As Reviewed by Lorna Likiza