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July's People

3.54  ·  Rating Details ·  4,495 Ratings  ·  347 Reviews
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 expert ...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published 1987 by Penguin Books (first published 1981)
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Petra Eggs
All the troubles of apartheid-era South Africa are encapsulated in this slim and beautifully-written book. Just when you think that you know the situation, you understand what is going on, the Chief is introduced and you realise that looking at it from the point of view of the (white) Smales and the in-two-worlds view of their ex-'boy' is only the half of it. It's black against white, but not for liberation alone but for power.

There are many reviews of the story of July's People. I am glad I did
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Samadrita
The 5 stars you see flashing at you are not just any 5 stars. They are the end result of a whole day of deliberation.
I happen to be one of those people who are not stingy with their ratings. If a book manages to bestow equal importance on both the prose and the message contained within in such a way that neither overshadows the other and both meld into a single entity of an unforgettable work of literature/fiction capable of whisking the reader away to a special place, then it can take my 5 sta
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Whitney Atkinson
This book was downright rough. It took a lot of googling and professor explanations to realize what was happening, because me and this writing style just did NOT click. That was the main downfall of this book, I definitely think: the writing was done so weirdly and awkwardly and hard to read. A lot of times, random lists and jagged sentences were thrown together, and with the dialogue having no speaker tags or even quotation marks, I was forced to get the audiobook just so that I could comprehen ...more
Hadrian
Sep 18, 2014 Hadrian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, south-africa
July's People is about a past that never was. In our world, South Africa had managed a peaceful way out of apartheid and began the painful road to democracy. In July's People, South Africa turned out more like Zimbabwe, where the racial hierarchy broke down into a civil war.

But that is only on the periphery of the story. We're far away from that now, and the news only comes in on scattered radio broadcasts. Our story is about the Smales family, who have fled their comfortable suburban homes and
...more
Cheryl
Aug 01, 2016 Cheryl rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in the ways of the world
The more I evolve as a reader, I find my five-star tastes vary from "the norm." But this doesn't deter me, for the way I read of Africa, is from the inside out. I read for texture and sound, for authenticity in 'voice.' These are all the things Gordimer does so well. When Gordimer writes of southern Africa, her characters embody post colonial strife, and her language is African rhythm: smooth, with strange sounds of syntax, with complexity embedded.

July, your people. Even in my part of West Afr
...more
Josh
Mar 14, 2016 Josh rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
At once you're a servant, living on the property of your Master(s) and then, when they need you the most, when they are thrust from their homes, left abandoned because of war, you are the one to be thankful for; not for your servitude, but for your caring nature, for your allegiance to a people that treated you well.

This poses the question: When do leaders become followers? When they have no other choice.

My first exposure to the Nobel Prize winning author Nadine Gordimer was at times an enlight
...more
Chrissie
The author of this book, Nadine Gordimer won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991. I am of the opinion that all too often this is awarded on political or social grounds, not for the excellence of writing.

The book does well draw the disintegrating situation in South Africa in the 1980s. Not merely the strikes, violence and abuses inflicted, but also the mistrust between the races. One sees both how the Blacks viewed Whites and the Whites viewed Blacks. What people said and what they thought. Y
...more
K.D. Absolutely
Apr 28, 2010 K.D. Absolutely rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 501 Must Read Books, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (20
Shelves: 1001-core
This novel is my 95th book in my quest to read all the 1,021 individual books included in the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die - 2010 edition. I read somewhere that if you really get the very basic plot of all stories already written, they can be grouped into just a handful or so. I think this is true. Reading July's People made me remember the following novels (most of these are also 1001 books):

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou - because July's People is anti-apartheid too
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Shannon (Giraffe Days)
Jan 24, 2012 Shannon (Giraffe Days) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2012
In Gordimer's slightly-alternate South Africa, tensions between blacks and whites escalates until all-out violence erupts. Shops and buildings are blown up and the whites are fleeing - but even planes are being blown up as they take off, so how is a white family to escape? The Smales family - Bram and Maureen and their three young children, Victor, Gina and Royce - are rescued by their black servant, July, who leads them out of the city and through the countryside, dodging patrols of armed black ...more
Connie
Published in 1981 during the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, Nadine Gordimer imagines a civil war where blacks overthrow whites. It's a fictional time of terrible violence where whites have to go into hiding to avoid being killed in Johannesburg. The Smales, a liberal white couple with three children, have employed July for fifteen years as a servant. They have treated him well so he takes the family to his rural black village to keep them safe.

In the village, a master/servant role reve
...more
Shelley
Jun 16, 2010 Shelley rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I know, I know....I am supposed to have had some great cathartic experience from reading this book but it just did not happen. I don't particularly enjoy this style of writing. It seems disjointed and confusing and was like trying to read something written on a bumpy ride in the country. The story was okay, could see parts of where it was going. All in all, not enjoyable. I read it mainly because it was on my list of have to reads and I was very glad it was a short book and was very glad when I ...more
Fabian
Oct 04, 2016 Fabian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Everything shines like blistering cobalt, cooper & gold: dialogue (precise and natural), character, prose, story, history, the resulting legend. "July's People" is all about tiny events that go all but unnoticed as whites and blacks try to hide from the civil war in 80's South Africa. The fractions of moments equal both salvation and apocalypse, & many times simultaneously. A huge question opens up above the whole enterprise. It is thought-provoking and meditative. The type of stuff to g ...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
This is a brilliantly-written novella, though the style takes a little getting used to. The writing is densely packed with meaning but at the same time quite spare; every word and its placement counts.

July’s People was first published in 1981, during the time of apartheid and unrest in South Africa, and it posited a violent near future for the country – one that did not, in the end, come to pass, but that might have under slightly different circumstances. A liberal white couple and their three y
...more
AC
Gordimer has a nuanced intelligence that is quite genuine. And the book is stylistically rich. Still, I found it claustrophobic, the entire story taking place in a tiny and narrow settlement, and the resolution ambiguous and unsatisfying. Others may find this much more to their tastes.
Emma
Jun 08, 2011 Emma rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
you guys, this is a badass book. i actually think it would be an interesting companion piece to "home," because it is also about whiteness and racial constructions (among other things) as expressed through interpersonal relationships. but whereas home left me feeling sort of weepy and moved, "july's people" left me feeling incredibly tense and out of sorts.

the story is set in rural South Africa, where the white, upper-class, liberal Smales family has fled to temporary safety with the help of the
...more
Zulu
Nov 09, 2012 Zulu rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Okay, switching gears from "women who need to get married or they will end up destitute", here's a book from the more postcolonial end of the pile.

July's People is set during the apartheid uprisings in South Africa, during the early 1980s, and one thing I really realized as I read was how ignorant I am about what all was going on at that point. I remember studying it in school a bit (there was a movie with Kalvin Klein with a South African accent...?). The only other source of my information has
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Annerlee
Beautifully written prose. The descriptions of life in July's settlement are vivid - often achieved through precise word-sketches in just a few sentences, yet so evocative.

The book subtly reveals power struggles in apartheid South Africa; power struggles between black and white (no matter how liberal their thinking), between man and woman, city and village - nation against nation... struggles that are still apparent in the micro cosmos of the village we get to know so intimately in the course of
...more
Andrew
For whatever reason, I've become friends with a fair number of white South Africans lately. And while they are all deeply regretful of the apartheid era, there is a sort of tension there, a feeling that despite their modern, liberal attitudes, a lot is being unsaid to me, the outsider, about the issue of race.

And Gordimer, writing at the height of the apartheid era, was able to crack just that. Our primary characters are decent white people who suddenly find themselves in unfamiliar terrain. And
...more
Brian
Nov 11, 2008 Brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2008, nobel
South Africa becomes a battleground. Armed militants are fighting in all of the cities. The Smales, a liberal white family, escape with the aid of their servant and hide out in his village. That’s where the real battle of this book begins. The roles of ‘servant’ and ‘master’ slowly transform. Tension builds within the Smales as a shift in characters shimmers like the heat rising above the veldt. What surprised me the most was the change in the children.

Gordimer’s writing style took a little eff
...more
Alexa
Mar 01, 2015 Alexa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fab-15
How can I say I “liked” this? I didn’t. It was grim and depressing and powerfully difficult to read. It may well be a great novel, but I had to force myself to read every single page. It forced me to confront my own gathering horror at the fact that I was indeed horrified at seeing deep injustice being over-turned. Not only is it an intensely emotionally wrenching novel, Gordimer’s narrative flows right through thought, dialogue, memory, and action without distinction. The literary difficulty an ...more
Elizabeth
Jan 02, 2014 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Written before the end of apartheid in 1981. It is a fictionalized account of what could have happened with an armed rebellion. The story follows the Smales, a liberal White South African family who were forced to flee Johannesburg to the native village of their black servant, July.What was so masterful about this book is the way Gordimer portrays the relationship between July and Maureen (the white woman), between Bam (the white man) and Maureen, between the villagers and the white family. It i ...more
Neal Adolph
A haunting book that I expect I will love more and more as time passes and its affect can be felt more acutely.
Sidharth Vardhan
“you like to have some cup of tea?-July bent at the doorway and began that day for them as his kind has always done for their kind.

A great read about that relationship that exists between haves and have-nots. Nadine Gordimer draws a picture of what would have happened, had the civil war took place. Her white characters were actually liberals and treated their servant, July fairly:

"..... master he say can I come in? and they have tried to train him to drop the 'master' for the ubiquitously respe
...more
Brian
Aug 31, 2013 Brian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An almost daily theme of Twenty-first Century front-page news in the West seems to be our sympathy for and righteous indignation about the indigenous folk who make our shoes and electronics, who mine our minerals and struggle with our ideas of justice and democracy. I can't remember reading a better analysis of that cultural confrontation than Nadine Gordimer's 1991 prize winning novel, July's People. While her story is set in the turbulence preceding independence in South Africa, her tale coul ...more
Kathleen
“ … she was hearing him say what he and she had always said, it came lamenting, searching from their whole life across the silent bush in which they had fallen from the fabric of that life as loose buttons drop and are lost.”


This short novel about role-reversal in a potential apartheid-induced civil war is artistically written in intricate detail about a world that for me is certainly exotic. It was fascinating in story and style, but not easy to read. Gordimer’s jagged narrative jars you out
...more
Kristel
A story of a liberal white family that flees a war between black and white. They leave with their servant July in their yellow bakkie. A interesting contrast of white and black and the failure to really understand as captured when the wife says "is our liberalism skin deep only?" (Not an exact quotation) The story symbols are the bakkie and the shot gun. Is this a book of hope for the future as displayed by the Samles children playing with the black children or is this dystopia look at the futur ...more
Lisa
Apr 30, 2015 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a difficult read. While Gordimer uses language effectively and at time jarringly, the content itself should be difficult for any South African. It forces constant introspection and self- confrontation. Necessary, always necessary.
For me, 21 years past democracy, I found myself looking at our country and at how little had changed. Yes we are a democracy, but in light of the recent xenophobic attacks and lack of transformation; is this dystopian reality unavoidable?
Karen
Feb 11, 2011 Karen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those books where I can appreciate the craftsmanship of it, but simply didn’t enjoy reading it. It’s fiction set in South Africa that deals with all sorts of intense issues like race relations, loyalty, dignity, and love but I never felt involved in the characters and I found some of the writing distractingly vague.
Matt
The blurb says it all, what I can say about this book.
It is an interesting, though not particularly gripping story. The writing style is somewhat idiosyncratic, and I needed a while to get used to it.

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Nadine Gordimer was a South African writer, political activist and recipient of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature. She was recognized as a woman "who through her magnificent epic writing has – in the words of Alfred Nobel – been of very great benefit to humanity".

Gordimer's writing dealt with moral and racial issues, particularly apartheid in South Africa. Under that regime, works such as Burger'
...more
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“you like to have some cup of tea?-July bent at the doorway and began that day for them as his kind has always done for their kind.” 5 likes
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