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Mating by Norman Rush
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Mating (1991)

by Norman Rush

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English (7)  French (1)  All languages (8)
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
I read this ages ago now, but it was after I'd spent years in El Salvador working in non-governmental assistance and development agencies. There was a lot in here that rang true, but I'd have to read it again. I seem to remember finding it excellent when it wasn't maddening.... As I remember, there was a charismatic sort of quasi-mystic at the center of it. Feh. ( )
  Eileen47 | Jun 23, 2013 |

Cover Design: The design on the cover is a detail from Hieronymus Bosch's painting The Garden of Earthly Delights. (Middle panel, blue globe in the middle of the lake.)



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  HearTheWindSing | Mar 31, 2013 |
This is not a book for the impatient. Dense, demanding and highbrow, Norman Rush's National Book Award-winning novel about an obsessive academic chasing idealized love in the Botswana bush of the early 1980s is both adorable and infuriating in its impenetrable cleverness.

It took me over a month to read this book, which follows a thesis-stymied anthropologist from Stanford as she chases down political-activist-cum-revolution-figure Nelson Denoon, finding him and wooing him in his isolated feminist village experiment in the central Kalahari. This is Tsau, Denoon's somewhat implausible ideological refuge for maligned and mistreated women. Tsau is run as a regime that flips the typical Botswanan patriarchy—rendered both as a chauvinistic travesty and as a timeless, quaint culture that the Benighted White West was poisoning—on its head, granting landowning privileges and political clout exclusively to women.

Tsau's veneer of utopia wears a bit thin as our protagonist—she remains, obnoxiously, unnamed—engages in pseudo-intellectual love games with her quarry (Denoon) and becomes wrapped up in Tsau's intrigues.

The thoroughness with which Rush renders his heroine is impressive, perhaps the most thorough inner monologue I have ever seen a novelist give a first-person character of the opposite gender. From dysmenorrhea to maternal yearnings, Rush runs his protagonist through all of the necessary feminine paces. I looked for obvious absurdities in motives but couldn't exactly find any.

To you, the reader, Norman Rush says: 'You'd better work as hard as I did.' (Of course, Rush would not use quotation marks or even paragraph breaks to denote dialog; that's your job, as reader, to decipher). Mating demands familiarity with all of the major liberal arts fields, from western philosophy to political theory. The vocabulary is borderline cruel, forcing me to keep a dictionary handy. Echt, adumbrate, lares, bouleversement, noetic, crescive, elenchus, divagate, apercus, anschluss, sessile—on nearly every page of the 500-page intellectual trial was a word I'd never even seen before. What was he thinking? Does he hate us? Maybe not, but you'd better be up to date on your categories of socialism and your grasp of Middlemarch and Latin phraseology.

The real tragedy here is that there is extraordinary writing skill and some distinctly compelling plot that gets lost in the screaming academic fury of the book. Rush's understanding of 1980s South African politics and culture is admirable—he spent time there, and not just a dabble of time—and his sentences are often stunning. But the book is so cerebral as to chase away or otherwise flout most of its would-be readers. ( )
1 vote lyzadanger | Mar 21, 2010 |
This is one of my favorite books. I have read it three times. The protagonist seems so real to me that I feel as if I am inhabiting her skin, in spite of the fact that we have dissimilar personalities -- our weaknesses and strengths are not at all the same.
The protagonist's dogged perseverance leads her to take on huge, dangerous challenges. She can be secretive with others, but she is always honest to herself.

Most of the story takes place in an African community based on matriarchy and many ingenious traditions and inventions for the ordinary actions of living. The inventor of this community is a famous, strong, intensely intellectual white man, motivated by a genuine need to create a living example of his talents -- to create a living example of his anthropological beliefs about people. However, at the end, his need to let his experiment evolve naturally makes him accept his downfall as community leader. ( )
  janewylen | Nov 24, 2009 |
This is a book I read over a period of nine years. I read it so slowly because I wanted it to never end and because even a few pages can give the reader so much to work with. The narrator is a bit unusual, in the sense that she is a highly analytical woman who observes her own love affair in an almost clinical fashion. However the tone does not detract from the power of the story and the affair, although one based on intellectual attraction, is not a dispassionate one. Additionally, the description of Africa from the viewpoint of an outsider is a tricky proposition and so is a female protagonist from a male writer; I think Rush avoids condescension here. I love this book. It is one of the most intelligent, erudite and thought-provoking I have ever read. It is probably flawless. ( )
2 vote citygirl | Oct 5, 2007 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
It is in the disintegration of idealism that Rush shows his greatest hand. Denoon’s is an island of ideals, political, romantic and personal, and reality is in the tides that run ashore. Idealism has limitations, in literature and in life. Erosion is bound to happen sooner or later.
 
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Everything I write is for Elsa, but especially this book, since in it her heart, sensibility, and intellect are so signally—if perforce esoterically—celebrated and exploited. My debt to her, in art and in life, grows however much I put against it. I also dedicate Mating to my beloved son and daughter-in-law, Jason and Monica, and to my mother, and to the memory of my father, and to my lost child, Liza.
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In Africa, you want more, I think.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 067973709X, Paperback)

Had Jane Austen been in the Peace Corps in Africa in the 1980s, Mating is the book she might have written. Set in Botswana in the days before the end of apartheid, Norman Rush's novel is, essentially, a comedy of manners played out in Austen's approved milieu: a country village. Granted, the village in question, Tsau, is a utopian society created by the great American anthropologist Nelson Denoon, and run largely by and for disenfranchised and abused African women. Still, the issue that interests Rush (and the one that fueled Austen's novels) is the age-old question of who mates with whom, and why? The unnamed narrator is a 32-year-old postgraduate student in anthropology whose dissertation has just gone south on her. Drifting around the edges of the expatriate community in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, she first meets Denoon:
He was smiling at Kgosetlemang--the event was to be considered over with, clearly--and I could tell that his gingivae were as good as mine; which is saying a lot. I attend to my gums. People in the bush don't always attend to their oral hygiene, not to mention other niceties. There was no sign of that here. I of course am fanatical about my gums because my idea of what the movie I Wake Up Screaming is about is a woman who has to keep dating to find her soulmate and she's had to get dentures. I have very long-range anxieties.
Entranced by this potential soulmate, our heroine strikes out into the Kalahari Desert with a couple of donkeys and follows him to his utopia where sexual attraction, regional politics, and social experimentation make for very strange bedfellows, indeed.

Mating is a fiercely intelligent, hugely ambitious novel that takes on feminism, socialism, political corruption, foreign-sponsored rural development projects, and, yes, male-female relations in ways that are simultaneously hilarious and disturbing. Certainly Rush's language is a big part of what makes the novel work: the narrator's combination of elevated vocabulary and wacky non sequiturs is inspired. When, for example, Denoon explains to her that most of the women in Tsau are celibate and therefore so is he, she reflects that "of course the spiritus rector of a female community would need to be a sexual solitary, at least during the foundational period." She then wonders if "this situation was the analog of western series on television where the female watchership shrank to nothing when the producers let the marshal get married." Mating is remarkable for its wit, its acuity, and its ability to satirize without demeaning; it's also a heck of an entertaining story. Jane Austen would have been proud. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:51:25 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Set in the African republic of Botswana--the locale of his acclaimed short story collection, Whites--Norman Rush's novel simultaneously explores the highest of intellectual high grounds and the most tortuous ravines of the erotic and tackles the geopolitics of poverty and the mystery of what men and women really want.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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