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Return to Nisa - Marjorie Shostak

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Return to Nisa
Marjorie Shostak
Paperback / softback
Harvard University Press
UK Publication Date

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.

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

Even after twenty years, Marjorie Shostak's Nisa is my all-time favorite women's life story. But I have always wondered what happened to Nisa. How did this gutsy woman fare as her hunting and gathering life disappeared in the wake of the transformations sweeping modern Africa? And what was the effect on Nisa of her close association with Shostak, the anthropologist who first told her story for the world to read? Return to Nisa gives some compelling and deeply moving answers, as Marjorie Shostak describes with eloquence and candor the connectedness and friendship-sometimes tense-between women from such different worlds. Each woman lives life and confronts death on different terms, yet both are sustained through time, change and personal loss by their shared sisterhood. A remarkable story, beautifully told.
Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, author of Mother Nature

Here at last is the long awaited sequel to Nisa. Now we follow Marjorie Shostak's determined footsteps as she returns to Africa and the Dobe !Kung to confront her past, the conceits of her discipline, the humanity and uncertain future of her informants, and her own mortality. It is a book about obstacles, boundaries, borders and limits. It is also about love in spite of itself. Here is soul searching and truth telling at its most exacting.
Nancy Scheper-Hughes, author of Death without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil

Return to Nisa describes a valiant journey, a search for healing on the edge of the Kalahari. This moving journal, now brought to fruition by Marjorie Shostak's friends after her untimely death, charts the enduring bonds of friendship. It is an ode to sisterhood and to hope, to the flesh and to the spirit, to all that is glorious in life and all we leave behind.
Alice Hoffman, author of Here on Earth

This posthumous work is unequaled in the genre of fieldwork revisitations, and even more, of memoirs about living with cancer. Transcending routine discussions of reflexivity, fieldwork, and the ethnographic vocation, it is extraordinarily moving anthropology.
George Marcus, Professor of Anthropology, Rice University

Lyrical, spiritual, wise, Return to Nisa completes a circle started decades ago in the encounter between an American writer and a !Kung San woman of the Kalahari Desert. Part ethnography, part personal odyssey, the book's engrossing narrative is made more poignant by the author's circumstances, for in addition to facing an alien culture and the rigors of the desert, Marjorie Shostak was facing her own mortality in the form of an advancing cancer. Rarely have the personal demons of ethnographic field work been so eloquently articulated, and confronted. Nisa's complex place in Marjorie's healing journey lies at the heart of the story. As one who knew them both, I cherish this remarkable book.
Richard B. Lee, University of Toronto

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.
Library Journal - Lucille M. Boone

Nisa is probably the single most compelling personality to become known to the world through ethnography. The story of her life, as revealed through her relationship with Marjorie Shostak, has vastly deepened our knowledge of women's experience in an African hunter-gatherer society. Shostak's return to find Nisa, decades after their first meeting, is an unforgettable adventure, beautifully evoked and rich in cultural insights and personal discoveries.
Robert LeVine, Harvard University

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 Words 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.
Booklist - Julia Glynn

Keyword Index
Women,!Kung - Social life and customs.|Women,!Kung - Social conditions.
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