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In the scheme of literary things, 10 years isn’t all that long to spend putting together a sprawling work of fiction. But if it’s the 10 years right after you’ve won the National Book Award for your first novel, I’m guessing it’s a nail-biter of a decade. Norman Rush apparently has a perfectionist tendency or two, so Mortals, the long-aborning follow-up to his widely acclaimed Mating, got taken apart and reassembled more than once. The result, a sprawling exhibition of wit, scholarship, and compassionate worldliness, stakes out its boundaries on the very first page, threading a scene of perfectly ordinary domesticity with harbingers of discord and the subtle irritants of cultural dissonance. Set in Botswana not long after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mortals centers on the increasingly unsettled Ray Finch—expat, Milton scholar, CIA agent—who’s as disturbed by his wife’s sudden restlessness as he is by the uncertainties that have begun trickling down from the new world order. Mortals is a passionate 700-page description of a slow-building collision between indigenous systems, colonial legacies, and the intentions of both the missionary hordes and an African-American scholar bent on “lifting the yoke of Christianity” from the continent’s shoulders. The prose is vivid, sharply observant, and full of ornery ideas about what harms the West has done Africa in the name of “civilizing” it—ideas upon which Rush will no doubt be happy to expand when he reads at 4 p.m. Sunday, June 22, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919 (Trey Graham)