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Mortals – Norman Rush

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People like it and I’m trying to figure out why. I guess I should buy it and find out. Naaah. I have other books I want first.

UPDATED 07-26 – Blogcritics review – Rodney Welch

Good as it was, Whites was no preparation for what came next. Mating, Rush’s first novel, was a ferociously intelligent love story and an extraordinary literary performance. Where Whites was sparing and contained, Mating was an explosion of verbal fireworks that dazzled from the first page to the last. The narrator is an unnamed anthropology student who recounts in random and meticulous detail her intellectual and romantic conquest of her academic hero, Nelson Denoon, a quirky theorist who establishes the female utopia of Tsau in the Kalahari Desert. Her goal is to absorb every speck of information she can; to not only be as close to Denoon as she can get, “inside the moat,” as she puts it, but to be him, to soak his genius into herself. Her favorite word for their relationship is bolus, or “rounded mass,” and that’s what the book is; it swells from inward to out. Just as Tsau is a “guest organism superimposed on a large organism, the desert,” so is she on Denoon; she wants to be remade by him and to remake him, to master all the kinks of his character that he can’t master himself. It’s a great, strange, exhilarating modern romance, and the voice that glides through it is brainy, vulnerable, and like none I’ve ever heard.

If Mating was about what joins, Rush’s new novel, Mortals, is about what tears apart; and this time, love – and a lot of other things – are scrutinized from the perspective of a declining male rather than an ascending woman.

NY Times Book Review: Grand Illusions in Botswana
[or, how to title your book review so no one reads it]

”Mortals” is a disillusionment, a black comedy of blown covers, botched intimacies, bad manners and worse politics in a southern Africa on which, as if it were a sand screen, the West projects its own dementias.

So ”Mortals” isn’t another ”Mating” — no windmills, solar panels, dung carts or boomslangs. Not every novel, even by Norman Rush, can be a parable of sex and utopia, an allegory of Mother Africa, a romance of political economy and a rewrite of Botswana’s social text in discursive feminism.

The Boston Globe: The Unquiet American.

If Norman Rush’s garrulous, sprawling second novel has one pop-culture parable, it is simply this: Beware the frailty of the macho man. The protagonist, Ray Finch, is a walking-wounded CIA agent stationed in Botswana in the early 1990s; he is also, to equally negligible effect, a passable Milton scholar – as interested in cracking the code of ”Paradise Lost” as he is in delivering the goods on native insurrections. But Ray’s real calling, which he contemplates early on in ”Mortals,” is to surround his wife, Iris, with a veritable biosphere of love.

Washington Post: Paradise Lost

Rush has written his new novel, Mortals, as the second installment in a trilogy on Western encounters with Africa, and in both its wry-yet-forceful narrative style and its generous conceptual reach, it is a worthy successor to the restless, cerebral and searing work that Mating was.

Seattle Times: Norman Rush returns to Botswana for another brilliant, inventive novel

Now, at last, we have Rush’s second novel, “Mortals.” It’s even more jumbo-sized than its predecessor. And it’s just as wild and wonderful.

Again the setting is Botswana (early 1990s, this time). And the troubled character in whose head we stay immersed for 712 pages is a CIA agent whose tendency to “overinterpret” doesn’t bode well for his marriage or career.

In prose no less eccentric (but a little less dense) than that of “Mating,” Rush inhabits the restless syncopative rhythms and associative bedlam of a male mind consumed by jealousy, disillusion and fading altruistic dreams.

Addtl. review
SLATE: Christopher Caldwell – review

It’s the story of a radical anthropologist, Nelson Denoon, who founds a feminist cooperative in the Kalahari Desert, as narrated through the field notes and reminiscences of a grad student who falls in love with him. Adrift in Botswana, the narrator is pedantic, glib, unreliable, allusive, high-strung, and politically correct. She is simultaneously very sexual and icily calculating; simultaneously self-hating and arrogant. She is a hell of a character – I find her repugnant, but I’m in a minority of readers on the matter.

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About temple

Always been a writer, always maintained an interest in politics, how people communicate and fantasy worlds within photography and books. Previously wrote for Blogcritics back in 2005 and interested in exploring the issues and topics I'm interested - the changing landscape of entertainment. all from the POV of a creator first, consumer, second.