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1001 book reviews > July's People by Gordimeer. 4 stars

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message 1: by Kristel (last edited Jul 14, 2016 05:32PM) (new)

Kristel (kristelh) | 4207 comments Mod
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. An 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 future of apartheid. The ending is startling, what does it mean?


message 2: by John (new)

John Seymour 4 stars.

July's People posits outbreaks of violence far beyond any that I recall from the final days of Apartheid with armies of blacks supported by Cubans and Mozambique engaged in open fighting in the cities capturing and destroying government buildings and burning white suburbs. Against this fictional backdrop Nadine Gordimer sets a young white liberal South African couple who flee the violence with their children and July, their servant, who leads them across country to his home in one of South Africa's homelands.

The tables are turned and it is now the Samles who are the outsiders who require permission from the chief to remain. Who are incapable of surviving rural poverty without being led and cared for. They are first shocked by the conditions they find in the dirt floored hovels that July leads them to - a people so poor that they have no garbage - but gradually become adapted.

Although the Samles hate the terms "master" and "boy," they struggle to understand that notwithstanding their liberal pieties they have been in a master-servant relationship with July, one in which they cared for July, in a manner similar to how they might care for a dog, but did nothing to preserve his dignity. This relationship starts to bubble through in little ways crashing against the harsh new reality they are in.


message 3: by Pip (last edited Jul 15, 2016 12:59PM) (new)

Pip | 1448 comments This is the first Nadine Gordimer I have read and I was looking forward to it with relish. The subject matter interested me greatly and it began with a lot of promise. I wasn't sure when it was written (1981, I discovered when I had finished) but it was clearly a fictional account of how apartheid might end. 1981 was the infamous year of the Springbok rugby tour of New Zealand, when half the country wanted to watch the rugby and tritely proclaimed that rugby and politics don't mix and the other half were out on the streets protesting the tour and chanting Free Mandela. My husband was the coach of the team whose match was called off because protesters invaded the field, and I was one who was protesting.

So I was interested in the setting. I also enjoyed the nuanced relationship between master and servant. I have had experience of being in charge of household servants and how fraught it can be to be liberal enough to assuage one's conscience without being completely ineffectual. The household goods that are commandeered, the efforts to be reasonable and instead being ridiculed by other employers, the attempts to show trust and then not being too upset when that trust is broken, were all familiar scenarios. However Gordiner goes beyond anything in my experience with her depiction of the emasculation of Bam Smale when his jeep is commandeered and later his rifle taken. Both of these events are written with great skill and empathy.

The relationship between Maureen, the mistress, and July, the servant, are the crux of the story. The power shifts and the misunderstandings are beautifully explained. I only give the book three stars, however, because it really did not engage my heart. The third person account seems almost removed from third person into another dimension so I did not care particularly what happened to any of the characters.


message 4: by Diane (new)

Diane Zwang | 1289 comments Mod
July's People by Nadine Gordimer
4/5 stars

July's people is a fictional account about the end of apartheid in South Africa. July is a live-in servant to the Smales family when war breaks out and they have to flee. With no time to pack and very little options they decide to go to July's small rural village. Once in July's village changes occur at a fast past including role reversals for master and servant. I thought this was a well written book with good character development.

One of the scenes that stuck with me most is when Maureen went outside at night in the rain, got naked so as to feel like she was taking a shower. Not only was she washing away the dirt but I think it was a cleansing of sorts.

There are some similarities of this book to The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Father making the decision to leave, adjusting to a new world especially the moms, malaria and the pills, being an outsider in a community and family.


message 5: by Dianne (new)

Dianne (deemitchell) I read this last year and enjoyed the first half of it. I have visited south africa and a lot of things evoked memories, but the ending i found strange and confusing.


message 6: by Beverly (new)

Beverly (zippymom) | 95 comments July's People by Nadine Gordimer
July's People by Nadine Gordimer
4 stars

This is the story of the dissension in South Africa. Now that the situation has finally come to a head, it is no longer safe to be white in the city. July, who works for the Smales family, has helped them to leave the trouble behind--at least temporarily. July drives Mr. and Mrs. Smales and their 3 children to his own small village. They hide the car in the bush and began living their lives as well as they can under such challenging conditions. I found this to be an interesting character study. It was fascinating to see how the relationship between July and the Smales changed and how the Smales family adapted to the huge differences in their living conditions.


message 7: by Diane (new)

Diane  | 2051 comments 4 Stars
Read 2011
Re-read July 2016

This book was written as speculative fiction about the end of the Apartheid in South Africa. The author did a great job of showing the role reversal between the races and the dependency of the Smales on July. The author also did a great job of uncovering the biases among liberals within the dominant society. I enjoyed the book more the second time I read it, and picked up on subtleties I missed the first time around. I still didn't care for the ending, but it does make you think about the possibilities about what might happen next.


message 8: by Book (new)

Book Wormy | 2064 comments Mod
3 Stars

Like Sashinka and Pip I didn't really engage with the characters. The setting was interesting and the book did create a feeling of unease and suspicion in my mind but I wasn't emotionally invested with the family or those around them.

I liked the exploration or role reversal between black and white and what it means to live as an outsider dependent on others for your very life.


message 9: by Patrick (new)

Patrick Robitaille | 975 comments ***

Set in South Africa in the early 80s, during some of the racial conflicts that ultimately led to the end of the apartheid regime, this novel explores the relationships of a white family escaping the city violence with their black "servant", who hid them among his native village. While the premise of the story from a plot and historical perspective, the somewhat elliptical writing style made it difficult to read at times (I almost gave up after 5 pages), even though this style actually lends itself to the context of the story.


message 10: by Zeejane (last edited Jun 13, 2021 05:11PM) (new)

Zeejane I listened to the audio format, narrated by Wanda McCaddon. This book was well written and the subject matter was engaging. The characters were well fleshed out and the world building was solid. However, in spite of all of these positives, I just did not connect with this story. I think it was mostly a timing thing, as I listened to it while preparing to host a pre-wedding event for a family member and was being pulled in different directions/hit with lots of distractions. I think this book has a lot of layers, but I was only able to give it a fraction of my attention.

I rated it 3 stars, but think this is one that I'd like to revisit at a later time.


message 11: by Pamela (new)

Pamela (bibliohound) | 134 comments Speculative fiction about a rebellion in South Africa. This was written before the actual breakdown of the apartheid system but is a powerful imagining of how the social structures could break down.

The liberal white Smales family - Maureen, her architect husband Bam, and their three children - have fled their home in a pick up truck (the ‘bakkie’) and have been taken by their former houseboy July to safety in his village home in the bush. Gradually they have to adapt to both their physical difficulties and the loss of their power and identity - the children unsurprisingly are more accepting of this, while Bam refuses to acknowledge some of the truths of their situation.

Despite its brevity, this is quite a challenging book to read. Gordimer writes in an allusive and roundabout way, with unattributed snatches of dialogue and unresolved issues that melt into each other, so patience and concentration are required to really engage with the text. There are physical symbols of white power - the bakkie, Bam’s rifle - that are skilfully used to represent the changing dynamics between the Smales family and their protectors. Overall, despite the frustration of how Gordimer deliberately leaves much unresolved, this is an incisive and satisfying dissection of the liberal white power structures of the time and their associated assumptions.


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