A Girl Named Disaster Study Guide

A Girl Named Disaster

A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer

A Girl Named Disaster is a 1996 novel by Nancy Farmer dealing with themes of femininity, multiculturalism, spirituality and coming of age. The novel follows Nhamo, an eleven-year-old girl living in Mozambique. After numerous problems, including an epidemic and an arranged marriage, Nhamo flees from her village to find her father in Zimbabwe. Traveling on a boat down the river, Nhamo confronts dangerous animals before having to confront hostile social forces in Zimbabwe.

Nhamo is an 11-year-old girl living in a traditional Shona village located in Mozambique around 1981. She was raised with the knowledge and customs of her tribe. Nhamo means "disaster" in the Shona language. Nhamo was given this name because of the scandal and wrongful things continued to follow her and her mother. After experiencing trouble with a cholera epidemic, a leopard, and a prescribed marriage proposed by a false witch doctor, she flees with her dying grandmother's blessings, some gold nuggets, and her meager survival skills.

Nhamo steals a boat and supplies under her grandmother's instructions and uses the river as her road to Zimbabwe, where she faces the threat of hippos, crocodiles, and other animals trying to kill her while, dealing with the pressures of becoming a woman.

What should have been a two-day boat trip across the border to her father's family in Zimbabwe spans a year in which Nhamo faces starvation and the threat of hungry or aggressive animals. The girl finds her way to a lush, haunted island and lives alongside a troop of baboons. Daily conversations with spirits combat Nhamo's loneliness and provide her with sage and practical advice. She makes mistakes, loses heart, and nearly dies of starvation.

Even after she arrives in Zimbabwe where she lives with scientists before meeting her father's family, Nhamo must learn how to live in a modern society (clothing, behavior, literacy), and is urged to let go of the "evil" spirits that "possess" her as prescribed by a Muvuki or witch finder.

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