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Mortalsby Norman Rush
Mortals includes Botswanan politics, the role of philosophy and religion in government, and covert intelligence operations, but at heart, it's a wonderful and desperate love story. Norman Rush is the most skillful and complex of the writers I've discovered over the past year, and Mortals' gorgeous prose, incredibly intelligent dialogue, and page-turning mystery make it a uniquely captivating read.
"In 1991, when he was 58, Norman Rush wrote his first novel, Mating, and won the National Book Award. Now, just when he was looking like another of America's great single-novel authors, comes Mortals, a 700-page detonation of talent that threatens to incinerate competitors for miles around. As an investigator of marital relations, he upstages Updike; as a critic of political hypocrisy, he has more wrath than Roth." Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor (read the entire CSM review)
"Mortals is a deeply serious, deeply ambitious, deeply successful book. Like all such books, it is not without faults....And the novel has the air at times of a once fatter man whose thinner frame is now making his skin sag a bit: there are abrupt transitions and sudden deposits of information. But big books flick away their own failings and weaknesses, make insects of them. And how much is accomplished here! For once, knowledge in an American novel has not come free and flameless from Google, but has come out of a writer's own burning; for once, knowledge is not simply exotic and informational, but something amassed as life is amassed, as a pile of experiences rather than a wad of facts. (Botswana is never a backdrop but always the fabric of Rush's fictions, and he clearly knows and loves the country.) And for once intelligence is not mere 'smartness,' but an element inseparable from the texture and the movement of the novel itself. For once it is novelistic intelligence, for which we should give thanks." James Wolcott, The New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)
Synopses & Reviews
The greatly anticipated new novel by Norman Rush — whose first novel, Mating, won the National Book Award and was everywhere acclaimed — is his richest work yet. It is at once a political adventure, a social comedy, and a passionate triangle. It is set in the 1990s in Botswana — the African country Rush has indelibly made his own fictional territory.
Mortals chronicles the misadventures of three ex-pat Americans: Ray Finch, a contract CIA agent, operating undercover as an English instructor in a private school, who is setting out on perhaps his most difficult assignment; his beautiful but slightly foolish and disaffected wife, Iris, with whom he is obsessively in love; and Davis Morel, an iconoclastic black holistic physician, who is on a personal mission to "lift the yoke of Christian belief from Africa."
The passions of these three entangle them with a local populist leader, Samuel Kerekang, whose purposes are grotesquely misconstrued by the CIA, fixated as the agency is on the astonishing collapse of world socialism and the simultaneous, paradoxical triumph of radical black nationalism in South Africa, Botswana?s neighbor. And when a small but violent insurrection erupts in the wild northern part of the country, inspired by Kerekang but stoked by the erotic and political intrigues of the American trio — the outcome is explosive and often explosively funny.
Along the way, there are many pleasures. Letters from Ray?s brilliantly hostile brother and Iris?s woebegone sister provide a running commentary on contemporary life in America. Africa and Africans are powerfully evoked, and the expatriate scene is cheerfully skewered.
Through lives lived ardently in an unforgiving land, Mortals examines with wit and insight the dilemmas of power, religion, rebellion, and contending versions of liberation and love. It is a study of a marriage over time, and a man?s struggle to find his way when his private and public worlds are shifting. It is Norman Rush?s most commanding work.
"The richness of Rush's vision, and its stringent moral clarity, sweep the reader into his brilliantly observed world." Publishers Weekly
"A reading experience not to be missed. Another National Book Award seems a distinct possibility." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] lucid, luminous, proudly literary prose that aspires to neither pomo pyrotechnics nor the dogged clarity of Iowa-school convention. The marriages are alive because the writing is. But it's not palmy to conclude that Rush's political concerns nourish his commitment to sustainable romance." Robert Christgau, Village Voice
?Wild and wonderful... Whether the matter under scrutiny is marital wrangling or guerilla rebellion, Rush?s observations are brutally accurate — and funny.? Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times
?Rush has a canny understanding of Africa, a profound appreciation for the fine points of romantic love, a muscular style of description, and an eye for character [that is] frighteningly sharp.? The Economist
?Rush has now produced three books so full of brainwork, contour, sinew and laser light that we don?t want to leave home without him.? John Leonard, New York Times Book Review
?Delightful... as Ray and Iris slowly tumble toward the recognition of real trouble in their marriage, the book illuminates them with a playful, intelligent light that any adult will find useful to see by.? Alan Cheuse, Chicago Tribune
?Marvelous...One wants to call Rush the best writer of his generation, but one imagines that he would reject the category.? John Homans, New York Magazine
?Absorbing... For readers hankering after a novel of ideas, it doesn?t get much better than this.? Jennifer Egan, The Observer
?Rush?s first novel, Mating, was magnificent. Mortals, as hard as it is to believe, is even better.? Erik Tokells, Fortune
At once a political adventure, a portrait of a passionate but imperiled marriage, and an acrobatic novel of ideas, Mortals marks Norman Rushs return to the territory he has made his own, the southern African nation of Botswana. Nobody here is entirely what he claims to be. Ray Finch is not just a middle-aged Milton scholar but a CIA agent. His lovely and doted-upon wife Iris is also a possible adulteress. And Davis Morel, the black alternative physician who is treating her--while undertaking a quixotic campaign to de-Christianize Africa—may also be her lover.
As a spy, the compulsively literate Ray ought to have no trouble confirming his suspicions. But theres the distraction of actual spying. Most of all, theres the problem of love, which Norman Rush anatomizes in all its hopeless splendor in a novel that would have delighted Milton, Nabokov, and Graham Greene.
Through lives lived ardently in an unforgiving land--Botswana--"Mortals" examines with wit and insight the dilemmas of power, religion, rebellion, and contending versions of liberation and love.
About the Author
Norman Rush was raised in Oakland, California, and graduated from Swarthmore College in 1956. He has been an antiquarian book dealer and a college instructor, and, with his wife, Elsa, he lived and worked in Africa from 1978 to 1983.
His stories, essays and reviews have been published in the New Yorker, the New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, The Nation, and other periodicals. He has been the recipient of numerous awards, including an NEA grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship.
Whites, a collection of stories, was published in 1986 and nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and his first novel, Mating, was published in 1991 and was the recipient of the National Book Award. Mortals is his second novel.
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