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Harvard University Press, Jun 1, 2009 - Literary Criticism - 272 pages
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The story of two women--one a hunter-gatherer in Botswana, the other an ailing American anthropologist--this powerful book returns the reader to territory that Marjorie Shostak wrote of so poignantly in the now classic "Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman." Here, however, the ground has perceptibly shifted. First published in 1981, "Nisa" served as a stirring introduction to anthropology's most basic question: Can there be true understanding between people of profoundly different cultures?

Diagnosed with breast cancer, and troubled by a sense of work yet unfinished, Shostak returned to Botswana in 1989. This book tells simply and directly of her rediscovery of the !Kung people she had come to know years before--the aging, blunt, demanding Nisa, her stalwart husband Bo, understanding Kxoma, fragile Hwantla, and Royal, translator and guide. In Shostak's words, we clearly see !Kung life, the dry grasslands, the healing dances, the threatening military presence. And we see Shostak herself, passionately curious, reporting the discomforts and confusion of fieldwork along with its fascination. By turns amused and frustrated, she describes the disappointments--and chastening lessons--that inevitably follow when anthropologists (like her younger self) romanticize the !Kung.

Throughout, we observe a woman of threatened health but enormous vitality as she pursues the promise she once discovered in the !Kung people and, above all, in Nisa. At the core of the book is the remarkable relationship between these two women from different worlds. They are often caught off guard by the limits of their mutual understanding. Still, their determination to reach out to each other lingers in the reader's mind long after the story ends--providing an eloquent response to questions that Nisa so memorably posed.

"It was not that we had become the best of friends or like close family. It was simply that she and I had the most straightforward connection I had ever had with anyone, before or since. It was as if the !Kung culture and my talks with Nisa touched something beyond reason in me. Even though I didn't necessarily like everything Nisa said, nor everything about her, my heart had been captured. But how often I wished Nisa had been more noble, more selfless, and more philosophical. Nisa had to be known well to be appreciated, for she was complex and difficult. She probably would say much the same about me. We both wanted things from each other, and neither of us got as much as we hoped for. That we both got some of what we wanted--well, that made our friendship extremely valuable." --from the Epilogue


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In Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman (LJ 12/15/81), anthropologist Shostak (Emory Univ.) presented the exceptional, outspoken Nisa, along with ethnographic descriptions of the !Kung, a group ... Read full review


Voices in Dobe
Spirit Travel
Nisa Is Inside
Gifts and Payments
Into the Bush
Lions in the Night
Village Reflections
Deep Trances
Past and Present
Soldiers and Spies
Nisa the Healer
Last Goodbyes

Nisa Remembers

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About the author (2009)

Marjorie Shostak was a Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology at Emory University and an award-winning photographer.

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