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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
Readers of this National Book Award-winning novel, a BOMC alternate in cloth, will be captivated by Rush's narrator, a self-absorbed feminist anthropologist who pursues a famous social scientist in the Kalahari desert. Author tour.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Don't read this book if you do not have an academic turn of mind. The vocabulary is out of sight but is just part of the fun. I did not know what I was getting into. Read morePublished on Feb. 23 2004
I cannot emphasize enough how much I would advise against reading this book. I was annoyed and offended within the first two pages but forced myself through it since I was reading... Read morePublished on Aug. 18 2003 by Leslie
some of the reviewers of this novel are quite ugly in their assessments of the book--and the author. well, i liked it very much. Read more
Look upon this book as an "advanced" novel; one full of Latin phrases, clever witticisms, inventive musings and the like. Read morePublished on Sept. 10 2002 by Quickhappy
It's pretty clear from the 50 other reviews here that this book is not for everyone. But you don't have to suffer through 150 increasingly annoying pages to decide that you can't... Read morePublished on Aug. 24 2002 by Kelly Diamond
Years later, this is still one of my absolute favorite books I have read in my lifetime. I laughed out loud throughout. Read morePublished on June 28 2002 by KaylingR
The kind of book you want to keep calling your friends to quote the best bits from. Astonishingly intelligent and laugh-out-loud funny -- now, there's a fine combination. Read it.Published on June 20 2002 by A reader
Many of the reviews of this book here objected to the fact that the narrator is, well, self-important, verbose, presumptuous, and pretentious. Read morePublished on June 8 2002 by Robert J. Crawford
I finally gave up on "Mating" after a gruelling week of struggle to get past the interminable chapters of this absolutely dreadful book. Read morePublished on March 28 2002