Nervous Conditions is a novel about Tambu, a young girl living in Zimbabwe who wants to go to school. After her brother dies, her wealthy uncle, Babamukuru offers Tambu his spot at a missionary school. Tambu attends the school, and, after various family feuds, cases of abuse and her parents' wedding, eventually receives a scholarship to go to another missionary school. The novel explores complex and oppressive gender and race relations in post-colonial Zimbabwe.
Tambu is the main character of the novel. The novel opens up with the news that Tambu’s older brother, Nhamo, had just died. Tambu is not upset about this because Nhamo studied at a missionary school away from his homestead with his uncle Babamukuru and his family. The only thing Tambu desires is to attend school, but her family is very poor and does not have enough money to pay for her school fees. Tambu’s uncle, Babamukuru, and his family came to visit the homestead. Because of Babamakuru’s success, he is worshipped whenever he comes to visit.
During the visit, Babamukuru suggests that Tambu should take Nhamo's place and attend the missionary school by his house. Upon arriving, she soon becomes close to her cousin Nyasha and completely focuses on her studies. During term break, everyone returns to visit the family back in the homestead. Tambu does not want to go back as she is much more comfortable living with Babamukuru.
Towards the end of the term, there is an exam administered at Tambu’s school. This exam is to test the students and offer them an opportunity to study at a well known missionary school. Tambu excels on the exam and is offered a scholarship to attend this well known school. In the new school Tambu is introduced to many cultural changes; however, she remains resistant to the changes. As always she is fully focused on her studies. Consequently, Tambu remains cautious of her daily situations and nervous of the conditions that surround her.