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July's People Paperback – July 29, 1982
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“Gordimer knows this complex emotional and political territory all too well and writes about it superbly.”—Newsweek
“Gordimer’s art has achieved and sustained a rare beauty. Her prose has a density and sparsity that one finds in the greatest writers.”—The New Leader
“Nadine Gordimer writes more knowingly about South Africa than anyone else.”—The New York Times
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Top Customer Reviews
The racial tensions and possible societal disintegration that occupy the pages of Nobel Prize winning novelist Nadine Gordimer's July's People will most likely seem eerily familiar to Americans. The inferior status of blacks, the exploitative and domineering position of whites - these are American problems. Yet, Gordimer is not an American. She is South African and her novel deals not with the Civil Rights Movement or the legacy of slavery in the U.S., but rather with the disastrous consequences of Apartheid in her homeland.
Written in 1981, July's People is set in a future South Africa in which blacks have finally overthrown their white oppressors through the use of extreme violence. The society that cradled Apartheid has been destroyed, as black militias battle the white army for control. The novel centers around the Smales, a liberal white Johannesburg family and their flight from their war-torn home. But this story is not just about them - they are led from the mayhem by their servant of 15 years, a man they only know as July, who takes them to his tribal village in the nation's interior wilderness. This turning of the tables of dependency in the family and servant's relationship is what pushes this work forward.
Little "happens" as far as sustained action in July's People. The war, the fighting, the havoc is all kept on the periphery, heard through jumbled radio broadcasts, second-hand retellings, and pure speculation. What Gordimer focuses on is the interaction of her characters. Objects once meaningless, take on entirely new levels of symbolic importance in this post-Apartheid world. When they flee, July has to drive the Smales' family vehicle to avoid attracting combative attention.Read more ›
What is interesting is that this is a book of conjecture or futurism, written when the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa was taking real shape and getting serious global attention, and when the white people were becoming more aware as to what was really happening in the townships (the news was heavily regulated by the apartheid regime).
Gordimer was working out what might happen if there was real violence and revolution in the streets. It must have been a very scary time, not knowing how it was all going to turn out and whether South Africa would go down the same road as other African countries where clashing clans exterminate each other on a regular basis. She had to consider what would happen if their lives would be in jeopardy to the point that they would have to flee and go in hiding. What a scary concept, one we have only recently had to contemplate after 9/11 woke us up to terror in our midst. (I personally had a fantasy of what I would put in the suitcase and which direction I would head if I felt that the attacks were going to continue).
While there was violence during the revolution in South Africa, it wasn't nearly as bad as the book projected. In reality, the revolution happened without a violent overthrow of the government but with a democratic and relatively (relative to other similar changes of government) peaceful election (thank you Mandela).Read more ›
Gordimer's novel is, I think, a great work of literature that deserves to be read as much for its style and attention to detail as for its touchy and still-applicable subject matter.
Though written during the apartheid period the book is valuable today not only as an historical document but also because sadly, in my opinion, things haven't changed much in South Africa since apartheid ended 12 years ago. Though the current government is black we found that descendants of Dutch and English settlers remain in the first world, while blacks are mainly living a third world life and working in subservient positions. True equality will take a few generations and education will play an important role in giving the majority population the skills they need for a comfortable life.
Now a bit about the book itself. July is a black servant until recently employed in a white household in Johannesburg. When rising conflict begins to threaten the lives of the family he serves, the Smales, July takes them to his home in the bush. The book concerns the adjustments that necessitates. It must be said that the elder Smales have always prided themselves in their treatment of July and their liberal politics. How to the Smales adapt to living in an insect infested hut? How do they relate to their former servant and their new neighbors, their subsistence diet and new levels of hygiene their relative status as male and female? The answers depend on which member of the Smales family you are talking about - male or female, parent or child?Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A bird's-eye-view of the inequalities, especially economic, for non-whites in South Africa, under apartheid.Published 3 months ago by Barbara Phillips
It's a really good piece of fiction. Gordimer's style is easy to read, and the insights into the contrasting lives of people in South Africa will be stunning to those accustomed to... Read morePublished 7 months ago by LimeyDawg
Could not relate at all to characters, too foreign for me and depressingPublished 7 months ago by Christine Sweeters
43 of 75 for 2015. I love Paul Theroux's travel writing, and in Dark Star Safari he recommends Nadine Gordimer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991. Read morePublished 8 months ago by MTBearded1@aol.com
In an imagined end to apartheid (written before the actual and less apocalyptic end), Nadine Gordimer shows how one white family reacts to being rescued by their servant and... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Jessica Weissman