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Mortals

3.74  ·  Rating Details ·  439 Ratings  ·  59 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 I ...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 it was ok  ·  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 really liked it
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
May 10, 2013 Jane rated it really liked it
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
Aug 26, 2010 Megan rated it it was amazing
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
Jamie
Jan 23, 2014 Jamie rated it really liked it
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
Rossandra White
Oct 23, 2014 Rossandra White rated it it was amazing
My daughter-in-law turned me on to this book; she thought I would enjoy it because it was set in Botswana. That was definitely part of my enjoyment. It took me back to my childhood, when Botswana was Bechuanaland. But it was Norman Rush's seductive writing that captured and entranced me. How does he do it, I kept asking myself, how is he able to just keep going inside a character's head, off on tangents not related to plot or to moving the story forward, making a point over and over again in dif ...more
Adam Cherson
May 24, 2016 Adam Cherson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I rate this book a 3.68 on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being best. This refreshing novel sometimes appears to be three rolled into one. First there is the married, often steamy, love story between Ray and Iris, then the surreal spy thriller, and third the playful novel within the novel, which we only glimpse from time to time. That all three manage to drive ahead together so successfully is only one of the signs that this is a masterwork of American fiction. The setting is Botswana around the mid to l ...more
Steve Mayer
Mar 20, 2014 Steve Mayer rated it liked it
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
Siddharth Manay
Jun 15, 2014 Siddharth Manay rated it really liked it
I didn't know what to think about this book; I still don't. I'm glad that I've read it, but I'm not in a rush to read more by Norman Rush, and I'd think a bit before recommending it to someone. It would depend on what you wanted from a book.

It's about a CIA contractor in Botswana; but Rush is not like Clancy or LeCarre at all. I think he belongs in a category with Wolfe, DeLillo, or maybe Updike, because he writes about modern Men... but unlike the others, his Men aren't unreconstructed jerks, a
...more
Al Sevcik
Jul 06, 2014 Al Sevcik rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
The writing and sentence structure is a bit unnerving at first until one realizes that most of what is going on is inside Ray’s mind. And Ray is a compulsive analyzer of detail. The story is placed in Botswana by an author who clearly knew the country well. Ray is a school teacher, but he also leads a secret life – that turns out not to be much of a secret. The plot develops too slowly for my taste, though there are interesting twists. The descriptions of the country, the land, the people, the s ...more
Sheila Grinell
Jun 14, 2015 Sheila Grinell rated it really liked it
Rush's "Mating" took my breath away. Reading this book was like drinking at the well a second time--a good, long draft but not as refreshing.

"Mortals" immerses you in Ray Finch's head, and it's an interesting one--he's an American Milton scholar working as a teacher (and covertly for the CIA) in Botswana on the eve of revolution in neighboring South Africa. Finch perseverates endlessly. He worries that his beloved wife may be having an affair with her shrink, and he takes off across the desert
...more
Perry Whitford
Ray Finch is a contracted CIA man working under cover as a school teacher in Botswana, neighbour to South Africa and the ANC, considered the most significant communist battleground after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dismantling of the USSR.

Botswana is a country which, in American eyes, "was working, in a continent where almost nothing else was." Things are about the stop working for Finch though, both in his work and his home life, as he loses respect for the methods of his superior and
...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
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
Kallie
May 12, 2016 Kallie rated it really liked it
This became, for me, a slog through the protagonist's obsessions: with his wife, with what anyone more prone to act than cogitate might feel, believe, take from him, with the machinations of all. However, I thought the writing excellent and funny and honest (Rush does not protect or fawn on his characters as some writers do their fictive selves). I loved the irony of a CIA agent too wrapped in his obsessions to actually observe what others say and do and apparently feel. I also liked the descrip ...more
Stephanie Henkel
Jul 19, 2010 Stephanie Henkel rated it did not like it
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
Feb 19, 2008 umang rated it liked it
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
Benjamin Siegel
Sep 01, 2014 Benjamin Siegel rated it really liked it
Not nearly as good as Mating, but stunning writing at points, and a reasonably compelling intrigue at the center of the story. First half is tremendous, as is the coda at the end; action scenes towards the last third are less compelling.
Anton
Apr 23, 2014 Anton rated it liked it
Norman Rush is a tragic figure. In better times he would have been an American Maupassant, but now he is just a domesticated bear with a funny hat doing a stupid dance to amuse us.
Ana-Catrina
Mar 18, 2016 Ana-Catrina rated it it was ok
This book made me feel angry. Angry at... what?... the characters, I guess, but maybe also generally angry. But mainly angry at the... main character, for lack of a better word. I'm writing in the style of the book, to give you, dear reader, an example. An example of the material I had to work with and henceforward the decision to give it, ...well, ...2 measly stars.
Marie
Dec 01, 2007 Marie rated it liked it
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
Mar 15, 2014 Inese rated it did not like it
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
Aug 12, 2008 eric rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 27, 2007 Dan rated it liked it
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
Apr 07, 2014 Forrest Link rated it it was amazing
Rush makes a man's love for his wife palpable.
Wendy Mathewson
Sep 06, 2010 Wendy Mathewson rated it it was ok
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
Rinoa Right
Aug 29, 2015 Rinoa Right rated it liked it
“Paradise Lost” runs through “Mortals” like blood through the vein. “Mortals” _is_ “Paradise Lost”. Every part and every symbol of the former has its correlation with the latter.

Thus, the sadness. The futility. And the imminence of things to come.

“If you love hell so much you should have done Dante instead of pitiful Milton. He was surprised at the thought. It was too late to do Dante”.

But maybe it isn’t.

"A paradise within thee, happier far".
Bob Reutenauer
Nov 03, 2014 Bob Reutenauer rated it really liked it
Rush knows Botswana very well it is easy to see. He also knows the emotional world of long term marriage partners. And he knows the outlines of a low key LeCarre style plot setting a minor CIA officer among a shifting alliance of political and religious rebels in Southern Africa around the time of Mandela release. Long book 700 pages.. not a page turner. Heavyweight. This book will be read for a long time.
Matt
Jul 16, 2014 Matt rated it liked it
Gets silly halfway through.
Michelle
Dec 30, 2013 Michelle rated it really liked it
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.
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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
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