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Mating: A Novel Paperback – Sep 1 1992

3.7 out of 5 stars 59 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage International Ed edition (Sept. 1 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067973709X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679737094
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 2.5 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 363 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars 59 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #307,964 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Amazon

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

From Publishers Weekly

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.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Mating is a chronicle of one woman's fascinating experiences in Botswana circa 1980 and centers on her love affair with the archetypal man-of-action, Nelson Denoon, an academic superstar who has developed from scratch a remote, self-sustaining village inhabited and administered by dispossessed African women. The narrator, whose name we never learn, is an erudite anthropology MA of 32 who is struggling over her thesis and what occupation to pursue in life. After learning about Denoon's secret village she risks great peril in crossing the desert in order to cling to him and become his Boswell. She is not near so much interested in this unique and interesting village, or love, as she is in the spectacle of Denoon himself. Rush gives an impressive portrait of both Denoon and the woman in this novel. It is truly an accomplishment in itself that Rush narrates in the first person as this thoroughly convincing woman. There is also a gripping story being told here that makes this novel much more than the erudite account of two big brains in Africa that it primarily is. The splendid prose is lucid and filled with uncommon and exotic words and foreign expressions, used not at all pretentiously or superfluously.
The prose carries the novel and the story makes it worth the trip, but there is a lot to the charge that it is too self-conscious in a way that would make even Proust turn in his grave. Nothing about the woman's life is kept from us and we are bombarded with painful, obsessive over-analysis of ever aspect of life, even the most minute and seemingly trivial things. Everything in the world, every comment, every movement, is put under the microscopic lens of her academicians eye.
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Format: Paperback
The first third of Mating is promising enough - good writing, good characters, etc. By the end of the book I was so nauseated by the boring psuedo-intellectual conversations. It was a bit like "The Blair Witch Project," only instead of idiot kids freaking out in the woods, you get self-satisfied Ivory-tower types freaking out in Botswana.
Rush's erudition is praised in several reviews. Just because the man makes you have to look up foreign phrases doesn't mean his writing is any better or more intelligent than others. Just more pretentious. In fact, while Rush does a fantastic job of playing "stump the reader" with his snippets of vocabulary from several language, he manages to use Japanese incorrectly. It's a "yukata" not a "yakuta." Which just goes to show that even pompous gits need good editors too.
Try Rush's short stories to see if you can tolerate him before embarking on this queasy whites-whine-in-Africa waste.
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Format: Paperback
I picked this one up a day before departing for an overland trip through east Africa. I thought,'Hmm, a book about Africa, perfect for a trip to Africa.' As some of you might know, there are hours of time to kill while cruising tarmac roads, and this was the only book available to me (I tried to trade with someone, albeit after having declared to everyone, 'This book wants to take a trip out the window!'). So I read it.
I've often had problems with characters I think could no way exist in our society, composites of real people the author knows, carrying on as if society has no effect on them. But fiction, this wonderful genre, is all about showing how people could carry on, how they could behave. And Rush shows how a person with the narrator's attributes, education, experiences could behave in the situation at hand. Yes, I have issues with the narrator's thought processes and I rolled my eyes at her overuse of vocabulary, but she is one interesting character. And the fact that she evoked such an emotional response from me is the reason I have to give this novel its propers.
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Format: Paperback
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 it for a book club. (About 9 of the 10 book club members detested the book as well.)
The language was poor, the characters contrived and the relationship intangible. The book attempted a "feminist" angle which was weak and formulaic. I did not identify with characters and remained very concious of the author.
Probably the most troublesome part of this book was the portrayal of African people. (Having a degree in anthropology, some background in African history and culture, and having spent some time in Zimbabwe, I feel this rant is justified.) From early on, Rush recogizes that his character associates only with ex-pat whites and has no personal relationships with Africans. This does not mean, however, that he gives any recognition or insight into the ex-patriot subculture. On the contrary, we're supposed to trust the characters and their experience by virtue of being anthropologists. Later, her love interest establishes a supposed designed society of women from various ethnic groups. Rush ignores the fact that Africans, like anyone else, have cultural backgrounds and affinities. They are not a blank slate to be manipulated, (though African colonial history shows that Rush was not the first person to think so). His proposition would be difficult for individuals giving up everything they knew and believed. Furthermore, it would be difficult to mix ethnic groups without culture clashes, or confronting historic rivalries. Rush dehumanizes the African characters. This is particularly clear when we notice that only one of this society is really portrayed as an individual.
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