Mortals by Norman Rush

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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.

From the Hardcover edition.

About Norman Rush

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Norman Rush is the author of three previous works of fiction: Whites, a collection of stories, and two novels, Mating and Mortals. His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Best American Short Stories. Mating was the recipient of the National Book Award. Rush and his wife live in Rockland County, New York.

Author Residence: New City, New York
Published March 23, 2011 by Vintage. 736 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, Education & Reference, Travel. Fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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the gay Mencken.” More serious complications arise when Ray is reluctant to compile information about British-educated engineer and social reformer Samuel Kerekang (whom the Agency considers dangerous), instead investigating another recent arrival in Gamborene: black American holistic healer Davi...

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The Guardian

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Mortals by Norman Rush 715pp, Jonathan Cape, £18.99 Westerners in Africa often tend to be mad or foolish, or plain bad, and Norman Rush has excavated their follies and their tender fancies with a singular passion.

Jul 26 2003 | Read Full Review of Mortals

The Guardian

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Mortals by Norman Rush Jonathan Cape £18.99, pp717 The Great American Novel can look a lot like the Big American Novel, a product not of ambition but a sort of elephantiasis affecting novelistic tissue.

Jul 27 2003 | Read Full Review of Mortals

Publishers Weekly

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When Ray's chief sends him into the interior to hunt down the idealistic leader of a fledgling rebellion, Ray's fears transmogrify into living nightmares, and the novel, already a textured, erotic portrait of a disintegrating marriage and a society in flux, becomes a political thriller infused wi...

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Entertainment Weekly

It's been a long time since Rush's last novel, 1991's National Book Award winner Mating -- too long, judging from the baggy diffuseness of his 700-plus-page follow-up, a portrait of a CIA agent in 1990s Botswana who allows mistrust to seep into his relationship with his wife.

Jun 06 2003 | Read Full Review of Mortals

London Review of Books

The book’s singularity is still striking more than a decade after it was published, and though many of the narrator’s expressions seem wildly implausible (‘I had been working my tits down to nubs’), or idiosyncratic to the point of absurdity (‘so I’m being rather cum grano salis on these throwawa...

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New York Magazine

“The underlying burning question of what exactly was going on with her over at Morel’s,” writes Rush, “was with him constantly, like indigestion.” Ray understands that as regards Iris, this is a war of ideology—her mind is the...

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Ray Finch loves teaching, he loves Milton, he loves living in Africa and he loves his smart, sexy wife, Iris.

Sep 09 2004 | Read Full Review of Mortals

The Paris Review

Then I hear Henry James: “Yes, and forget her, too.” James wrote lots of novels about forgiveness.

May 04 2012 | Read Full Review of Mortals

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