Mortals
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Mortals

3.68 of 5 stars 3.68  ·  rating details  ·  332 ratings  ·  43 reviews
At once a political adventure, a portrait of a passionate but imperiled marriage, and an acrobatic novel of ideas, Mortals marks Norman Rush�s 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...more
Paperback, 736 pages
Published July 13th 2004 by Vintage (first published May 27th 2003)
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Lobstergirl
Oct 31, 2011 Lobstergirl rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Betty Loren-Maltese
Shelves: own, fiction
Two stars because:
1. The author insists on using the term "pubic escutcheon" several times.
2. The book is 400 pages too long.
3. Lots and lots of cringeworthy sex and anatomy talk. Both our protagonist, Ray, and his wife, Iris, sometimes refer to her pubic region as her "shame."
4. Ray, a CIA agent in Botswana undercover as a college professor, is hopelessly, embarrassingly, relentlessly, exhaustingly uxorious.
5. Ray and Iris are obsessed with the cutesiness of their inside jokes, puns, and aphori...more
Sam
Apr 04, 2011 Sam rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: novels
James Wood might argue that big books transcend their shortcomings - whatever that particular plea for ambition really means - but Mortals has a few, of which one is its sheer length. True, this novel about a small-time CIA agent/professor in Botswana and his long-suffering, possibly cheating wife does a great many things, but not enough to justify being 700+ pages long. The pages on religion, for instance, are great, especially a recorded debate between a militant atheist and an agnostic social...more
Jane
One could be forgiven for picking up a 700+ page tome detailing a white CIA agent’s musings about, among other things, liberal guilt and the impenetrability of Botswanan culture to a western outsider and thinking, “You navel-gazing ass,” but it would be mistake to discard this book so quickly. This is an easier book to admire than to love, but I liked it very, very much.

While this is perhaps the single most masculine novel I’ve ever read – even aside from the guns and competition for labia rende...more
Megan
Norman Rush is irrevocably added to my personal list of all-time great writers. For those who enjoy long, wandering pieces of dialog and introspection, I think Rush will endear himself to you permanently as well. The wonderful thing is, though his protagonists are wordy in their mental peregrinations, the plots of both of his novels (Mortals and Mating) kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end, at which point they both made me cry. Rush's genius, I think, is that he is concerned with tw...more
Steve Mayer
The reviews were mostly correct: this is not as good as Mating. To me, at least, that's because one of its central subjects (for at least the first part of the book) is religion. Indeed, there are about twenty pages of dialog about Christ as a Jew that is the most boring interlude about religion since the Grand Inquisitor scene in The Brothers K. More fundamentally, the two halves of the book don't hang together very well. Once Ray goes into the wild the focus of the book changes from his intera...more
Perry Whitford
Ray Finch is a contracted CIA man called in Africa, working under cover as a school teacher in Botswana, neighbour to South africa and the communist ANC, the most significant communist battleground after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dismantling of the USSR. Botswana is a country which "was working, in a continent where almost nothing else was." Things are about the stop working for him though, both in his work and his home life as he loses respect for the methods of his superior and start...more
Chanpheng
This book is both a psychological study of the break-up of a marriage and an action-thriller. Jay Finch is a spy and a teacher in Botswana but what he really wants to do is write poetry. Rush captures the feelings and conversations between husband and wife, a thousand changes of mood and feelings within each conversation.

The 'action' in the middle of the book moves it along well enough, and while there are some crazy scenes, it weakens the plot. Jay becomes more of himself - neurotic and paranoi...more
Jamie
Welcome to the mind palace of Ray Finch. It is obsessive and intellectual and full of quotes that non-academics will find annoying. And it is utterly charming in its weaknesses, namely its abiding love for Iris, his wife, and in its strengths, its amusing combinations of curse words: "...anything like this hellfuckshit hell going on."

Norman Rush has a truly amazing gift of writing us deep into the minds and lives of hyper-intelligent, politically involved, and normally neurotic people. I thank h...more
Ben Bush
There's some pretty great descriptions of being in love in here, both the good and the bad parts of it. Rush also has a habit of including more terrible puns than the plot necessitates. I found the book more emotionally engaging than I expected and also almost shockingly traditional in terms of literary style. Rush's depiction of Botswana is an interesting one but, with the exception of Kerekang, it mostly evades having to delve into much characterization of the locals. It's a fast read at 700 p...more
Stephanie Henkel
This book might have been interesting for its insight into the politics and country of Botswana if it hadn't been filled with page after page of repetitive and boring discourse. How many ways can one say the same thing? Ask Norman Rush and he will give you a quick 25 page answer. I kept hoping that I'd like it better, but in the end my feeling was that it was not particularly interesting and not particularly entertaining. It's not often that I skip pages of a book, but in reading this book, I st...more
umang
Another interesting psychological exploration by Rush... however the plot really gets in the way, at times. There is a 300 page digression of questionable value and relevance. My impression of this section is that it was included to position the book to be made into a movie. It is possible I didn't appreciate this part of the book b/c I skimmed it so fast-- but it was very hard to get interested in it given the other things happening.

The portrayal of the breakdown of the marriage is compelling...more
Marie
I couldn't finish this book, but wish I could have - the premise is very interesting - a scholar in Botswana who is really CIA agent struggling with his career, philosophical issues about race, religion and life, his overwhelming love for his wife .... it is NOT a spy type thriller at all. Rather, it is very intellectual - and at times, the long-ish conversations between people on philosophy just seemed totally out of synch with rest of book's plot.... and it was just more than I could finish. B...more
Inese
I gave up after 300 pages of this 700 page book. I might have become interested in the characters or even the plot if the characters had been explored at more depth and if there had been a plot that was not constantly interrupted by excessively long rants on everything from AIDS to religion (a full chapter of this one) to race relations.
eric
I was a little skeptical about this one for a hundred pages or so. It seemed like the main character was self-absorbed and paranoid and lots of other things. And, it turns out, he is, which eventually makes this really enjoyable. Hard to read maybe sometimes but only because you have so much invested in the characters. It's sort of interesting how I didn't really like the main character all that much most of the time but I ended up being really attached to him anyway. Somehow the book manages to...more
Dan
I'm not sure how I feel about this book. I finished it last night, but I skipped almost 200 pages in the middle. I just really needed to know whether the protagonist's wife was cheating on him.
There's a 300 page chuck in the middle where the relationship plot gets put on hold while 'things happen in Africa,' and I didn't have the patience. That part of the plot was just moving too slowly - and with little context.
On the other hand, the details of the dying marriage seemed to be just right - and...more
Forrest Link
Rush makes a man's love for his wife palpable.
Wendy Mathewson
I read Mating a few years back and thoroughly enjoyed it, so was looking forward to Mortals. I didn't make it. After 300-400 pages, I had to return it to the library. It's heft made it a bit of a drag to read in bed (my only reading place apres le bebe)--but I could have overcome that if the narrative had pulled me along. It had occasional amusing shades of Our Man in Havana (small time spy, expat experience, funny), but was mostly a lot more information than I needed to know about the protagoni...more
Michelle Leberfeld
If you read Rush's "Mating" back in the day and absolutely adored it, you'll enjoy this followup. It's so many things but essentially a story about a love triangle among American expats in Sub-Saharan Africa just after the USSR crumbled and just before Mandela was elected. Warning: if you dislike characters who over think everything, run screaming.
Charles Finch
Some books are imperfect and you give them five stars anyway, because they're extraordinary enough that their imperfections don't ultimately reduce their impact. MORTALS is like that to me - aspects of its story of a marriage of two Americans in Botswana irritated me, but it's such an intelligent and interesting book that it didn't really matter in the end. I'll wanr people that it's slow in parts, though the last third goes by incredibly fast...
Laura
I was happy to see Mortals at the library, after enjoying Norman Rush's first novel, Mating, so much. The first 2/3 of Mortals took me forever to read - I couldn't relate to the characters and did not find them likeable. But I found myself thinking about them a lot in spite of that, so it seemed worth continuing on. When the plot finally picked up, reading the story became enjoyable. I love Rush's use of language and moments of absurd humor.
Kris
This was part of my reading in prep for my trip to southern Africa. The first third of the book was very slow reading with way too much philosophizing. It did not really connect well to the rest of the book. Once the protagonist got out into the bush and into some trouble it was much more interesting to me. It did provide me with some beginning understanding of the culture, politics and geography of the region.
Kimberly Uchimura
The story was good but way too long. The characters might have been engaging if it weren't for my boredom with the length of every description, which had too much interior dialogue and not enough about surroundings, reactions of others, etc. If the author's goal was to show how the protagonist was too wrapped up in himself, he nailed it. I did not like this book well enough to recommend it to anyone else.
Linny
Rush gets long term relationships, the dynamics and chaos in this love story about a spy, cover college professor, in Botswana just as Mandela comes back. He also writes good sex and his inner dialogue in all the scenes rings true, especially interesting as he brings his CIA training be bear as he is questioned and tortured by the enemy - needed to be edited though. I want to read more Rush.
claire
okay so i loved the first 2/3s, then the next 1/5 was a little tedious but i stuck with it. then the ending was beautiful (and also very very sad--i don't think i've ever cried through a graphic sex scene before). In the end, I really loved the book but would recommend Rush's _Mating_ first and foremost to anyone interested in reading this author.
Alison L.
Unlike Mating, I didn't have to read this with dictionary in hand. The book expands further into cultural and political movements in southern Africa, but Iris and Ray's relationship and its unraveling is the most compelling aspect in a beautifully written novel of intimidating, intelligent, complicated people.
Larisa
The description inside the book jacket made this book sound exciting, full of spying intrigue and passion. And maybe it is, later on. But after three chapters I found Ray and Iris and their marriage so irritating that I just could not bear to spend any more time with them, so back to the library this went.
Anna
This is a book in one of my favorite genres - novels that manage to interweave philosophical and sociological concepts with compelling characters and an artfully told story. Mortals is the story of two white ex-pats in southern Africa - highly recommended.
Caitlin
No fiction writer loves the language more than NR. And this is the best portrait of infidelity--of marriage, as far as I know--that I've ever read. However, the connective plot tissue is less riveting than "MATING".
Dawn
I gave this one about 75 pages, but the story hadn't really gotten going and the characters weren't very likable. As I get older, I have less time and less tolerance for books like this. Moving on...
Tara
There were moments that filled me with intense emotions. Such strong writing. The end quarter was a bit of a drift, though. Could have been totally cut. I look forward to reading more Norman Rush.
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Norman Rush (born October 24, 1933 in Oakland, California) is an American novelist whose introspective novels and short stories are set in Botswana in the 1980s. He is the son of Roger and Leslie (Chesse) Rush. He was the recipient of the 1991 National Book Award and the 1992 Irish Times/Aer Lingus International Fiction Prize for his novel Mating.

Rush was born in San Francisco and graduated from S...more
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