Mating: A Novel Paperback – Sep 1 1992
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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
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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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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.
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
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