A Girl Named Disaster is the story of Nhamo, a girl from a remote village in Mozambique who runs away to the cities of Zimbabwe. Although Nancy Farmer, the author, is an American, she lived in Zimbabwe and Mozambique for many years.
Nhamo’s mother was killed by a leopard when she was a baby, so she is being raised by her aunt, Chipo. Aunt Chipo dislikes Nhamo and makes her do most of the hardest chores, such as pounding corn (called mealies in the book) and gathering firewood. Chipo’s beautiful daughter, Masvita, is the same age as Nhamo but does far less work. Masvita is kind, but Nhamo is jealous, especially when Masvita gets her first menstruation and is given a celebration of womanhood.
Shortly after Masvita’s celebration, cholera strikes the village. Nhamo’s grandmother, called Ambuya, says this disease is caused by bad water, but many of the other villagers mutter that witchcraft has brought the disease. Many villagers die and many others grow very sick. Masvita’s illness is so bad that she becomes gaunt and loses her monthly bleeding. Her father, Uncle Kufa, decides to consult a medical specialist, called a muvuki, who will tell them the cause of the deaths and perhaps help Masvita’s health improve.
Nhamo and the other villagers travel to the trading post to consult the muvuki, but he is too busy to see them right away. One evening Nhamo goes into the trading post with Ambuya, one of the few villagers who is kind to her; she is shocked to see the old woman drink beer. The Portuguese trader, Joao, is surprised by Nhamo’s name, which he knows means disaster in her language. Ambuya explains that Nhamo’s mother married a no-good, lazy drinker called Proud Jongwe. He refused to pay a bride price for Nhamo’s mother because he was a Catholic who was against such pagan traditions. One night in a brawl, he smashed another man’s skull and ran away, leaving Nhamo’s mother to give birth to her daughter alone. Nhamo had never heard this story before. She has long hoped that her father would come to arrange her bride price when she becomes a woman, but now she knows this is too much to hope for. She is the daughter of a murderer. Unlike Masvita, who is worth many cows, Nhamo is probably worth less than a mangy goat.
Shortly after Ambuya tells this story, the villagers are invited to see the muvuki, who seems to have magically...
(The entire section is 2714 words.)
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A Girl Named Disaster recounts an eventful year in the life of an African girl named Nhamo, the Shona word for "disaster." Nhamo has spent the first eleven years of her life in a traditional Shona village in Mozambique, where her unloving maternal relatives treat her as a drudge. Her father shamefully ran away after killing another man, and her mother was killed by a leopard when Nhamo was a toddler. Only her grandmother and one female cousin show Nhamo any affection. When cholera strikes, the villagers consult an important traditional healer, who makes Nhamo the scapegoat for all the troubles plaguing the village. To placate the angry spirit of her father's murder victim, the healer decrees, Nhamo must become the junior wife of the victim's brutal brother.
At her grandmother's insistence, Nhamo escapes this dreadful fate by stealing a boat and setting off alone for Zimbabwe to find her father's family. But a journey that was intended to take two days becomes a yearlong odyssey. Nhamo travels the full length of Lake Cabora Bassa, living for several months on an island inhabited by baboons, before she finally reaches Zimbabwe and finds refuge at a science station. Along the way, she faces starvation, isolation, illness, and many physical and psychological dangers. Although she does eventually make contact with her father's people, they are as inhospitable as the relatives she left behind in Mozambique. By the end of the book, however, Nhamo finds a...
(The entire section is 484 words.)