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On a great African novel


At one of those deliciously boozy meals that follow one another in sluggish succession through the twelve days of Christmas, I got talking to author and anthropologist Albert Sánchez Piñol about Africa, which he has been visiting for near on two decades. According to him, it's the missionaries who are the worst of the white blights: 'For every thirty languages they take away, they give back one,' he raged, 'while criminalising local religions then fobbing the natives off with a kiddies' version of Christianity', thus causing untold harm to hundreds of complex cultures.
By coincidence, that week I had stumbled across a recently reprinted autobiographical novel which dealt with precisely this subject. In Tsitsi Dangarembga's 'Nervous Conditions' (1988), a village girl in Ian Smith's Rhodesia describes how she goes to Mission School and makes friends there with the black headmaster's daughter, an anglicised (and anorexic) teenager who has seen through the colonisers' paternalistic game and hates what they have made her into, yet can't be anything else. This friend ends up having a terrifying fit, consumed by fury against both herself and her educators. For this reader at least, Dangarembga's novel, beautifully written, with plenty of subtle jabs at the white solar plexus, also carries the revelatory thrill of hearing an entire continent whisper to itself about the cultural culdesac into which it has been jammed by alien hands.
So how is it that, far from granting this fine novel modern classic status, most European readers haven't even heard of it? Surely, Europeans today don't have that inbuilt condescension towards African culture that was and is so rife among the missionaries? In my mind's ear, I can hear Sánchez Piñol – no fool he - chuckling cynically in the background.

- Textos i contingut: Matthew Tree - Disseny i programació: Nac -