Marjorie Shostak Return to Nisa

ISBN 13: 9780674003231

Return to Nisa

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9780674003231: Return to Nisa
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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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About the Author:

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

Review:

In Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman, anthropologist Shostak presented the exceptional, outspoken Nisa, along with ethnographic descriptions of the !Kung, a group of hunter-gatherers in the Kalahari desert. In this sequel, published posthumously, Shostak, a mother and cancer patient, returns to...Nisa's village in Botswana in order to study changes in the lives of the !Kung...As in the earlier book, Nisa and other !Kung relate their life stories, but Shostak's is the primary voice here, recording the fascinations and frustrations of field work. (Lucille M. Boone Library Journal)

In 1989, after being diagnosed with breast cancer...[Shostak] decided to revisit the land of Botswana, where she had lived 14 years earlier. All those years ago Shostak had studied the people and the land of the !Kung community and had written the acclaimed work, Nisa: The Life and Works of a !Kung Woman...These many years later, as she is dealing with a sense of her own mortality, Shostak returns to the !Kung and to Nisa, who is one of her dearest friends, to continue her insight into this culture. The mutual fondness and respect these two women have for each other is obvious. Return to Nisa is a moving story about the sustaining power of friendship. (Julia Glynn Booklist 2000-11-15)

We are presented with the story of a woman and a mother, suffering a terrible and life-threatening disease, who seeks healing, hope and understanding among another people far from home...Shostak writes a moving and absorbing travelogue about her attempt to deal with the realization of her own mortality. There is some wonderful description that draws the reader into the story and a compulsive emotional honesty that enfolds the reader, inspiring empathy. (Tristan McConnell Times Higher Education Supplement 2000-12-15)

No standard anthropology text, this is a personal memoir, haunted by author>Shostak's battle with breast cancer...Shostak sets out for [Africa] once more, but the romantic vision of a quest soon evaporates. This time, Nisa's people are more concerned with their own affairs than with talking to Shostak...For Shostak, these are spiritual moments; for the !Kung they are performances, and everyone wants to be paid. Here we have fieldwork, warts and all. Return to Nisa offers no neat package of connection and redemption, but Shostak does tell a compelling tale of her need to revisit a place and a people who represented a defining period in her life. (Meredith F. Small Natural History 2001-02-01)

In the end, a touching paradox emerges with the realization that for all the changes over time, the issue here may not be so much how we, the Western strangers, have changed the !Kung, but how much they have changed us...It brings the lives of both Nisa and Shostak in full circle and, in doing so, earns our gratitude for its celebration of the commonality of the human career. (Carmel Schrire Journal of Anthropological Research)

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Publisher: Harvard University Press, 2002
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