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July's People Paperback – July 29, 1982

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Editorial Reviews Review

Not all whites in South Africa are outright racists. Some, like Bam and Maureen Smales in Nadine Gordimer's thrilling and powerful novel July's People, are sensitive to the plights of blacks during the apartheid state. So imagine their quandary when the blacks stage a full-scale revolution that sends the Smaleses scampering into isolation. The premise of the book is expertly crafted; it speaks much about the confusing state of affairs of South Africa and serves as the backbone for a terrific adventure. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“So flawlessly written that every one of its events seems chillingly, ominously possible.”—Anne Tyler, The New York Times Book Review

“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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; New edition edition (July 29, 1982)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140061401
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140061406
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #69,982 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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44 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Rockefeller on July 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
From [...]

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.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Jill on July 7, 2004
Format: Paperback
I don't understand the confusion over the writing. I've read other noted experimental novels that were much more difficult (ie Calvino) but writing can (and should) take so many forms, why does it always have to be predictable and follow convention? In this book the structure worked for me and I admire the way she manipulated language to create an intended mood.
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).
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 10, 2004
Format: Audible Audio Edition
Just thought I'd clarify that the "dashes" that reviewers have been referring to are in fact the standard for marking dialogue in South Africa and, I might add, many other countries.
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.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By K. on August 19, 2007
Format: Paperback
I bought a copy of Nadine Gordimer's "July's People" shortly before my husband and I made our first trip to South Africa. I must confess I found the first chapter quite difficult to comprehend. I decided to put the book aside and read it after I had been in the country for a while, hoping I would find it easier to understand. And I did.
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?
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