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Return to Nisa

Return to Nisa

Marjorie Shostak

ISBN 9780674008298

Publication date: 03/01/2002

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Marjorie Shostak

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 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.


  • 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


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

Book Details

  • 272 pages
  • 5-11/16 x 8-7/8 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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