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July's People
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July's People > Week 1

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Lisa (lisadannatt) | 304 comments Week 1: chapters 1-6

message 2: by ☯Emily , The First (new) - added it

☯Emily  Ginder | 1164 comments Mod
Well, the first page was confusing! I hope the writing style becomes less disjointed as the storyline unwinds. Lisa, can you provide any suggestions for reading this book?

Lisa (lisadannatt) | 304 comments Hi Emily, I've just started it. Hopefully by tomorrow I'll have more thoughts and suggestions.

Lisa (lisadannatt) | 304 comments Gordimer wrote this book in 1981 during Apartheid at a time where anti- Apartheid protests were escalating. This is her interpretation of how Apartheid would end.

This was a very difficult period in our history, emotionally still very difficult to discuss. I think that although it's a short book, it's a toughie. I'm going to try to give some context as we go along, I hope to do the book justice, but please tell me if I'm off course.

The novel is set following a civil war where black SAns have overthrown the white government. The Smales have escaped the city into the village of July, who is employed by them as a servant.

We are first introduced to July, an African servant of as yet undisclosed cultural origin. July would have been educated via the very inferior 'Bantu Education' system. Gordimer has tried to convey how he would speak as a second-language English speaker who has had a severely inadequate education. Although he rescued the Smales, he still waits on them within his own Rondawel (round hut, building materials vary).

I agree that the beginning is disjointed but I think that's to convey the chaos experienced by the characters.

Anastasia Kinderman | 654 comments Mod
We might have a lot of questions for you, Lisa. If it becomes too difficult please let us know.

Lisa (lisadannatt) | 304 comments Ill try my best to answer.

Lisa (lisadannatt) | 304 comments Mrs Smale awakes in the rondawel belonging to July and his wife. Her family have bee through a harrowing journey as evidenced by children sleeping on seats from the cars, references to vomit and exhaustion.
She flashes back to the pouch home of her youth, which starkly contrasts with July's sparsely furnished hut.

A comment, July, as the family's servant has obviously travelled with them, yet here he is giving up his bed and waiting on them. This speaks to his mindset and how people like July were raised and treated during Apartheid.

Lisa (lisadannatt) | 304 comments Haven't been able to read more today- it's on my kindle which I was unable to charge until now due to nation wide power cuts. Please excuse me if I don't manage to write daily...

Lisa (lisadannatt) | 304 comments Emily, here's some online summaries. Not sure if you use this sort of thing.



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☯Emily  Ginder | 1164 comments Mod
Lisa, thanks. You don't have to write every day. I have read through chapter 4. I don't find this easy reading and have to reread many paragraphs in order to figure out who is thinking, talking, etc. I think the book would be more powerful if the reader could get more involved in the story.

Alexa (AlexaNC) | 435 comments It is indeed difficult reading it, but I'm finding it challenging in a good way. Sort of stream of consciousness - I like your comment Lisa, about the chaos of (mostly her) thoughts reflecting the chaos of the situation.

It really masterfully reflects the reality of white privilege. Here they are, knowing how lucky they are to be alive, yet none the less appalled at the living conditions they now have, and somehow feeling they shouldn't have to be suffering like this. The unstated, but overwhelming consciousness that while it might be fine conditions for the black people, it just isn't what the white people deserve. After all, they were "good" people.

It really chips away at the unspoken/unconscious/unquestioned belief that class and racial differences reflect earned rights.

message 12: by Lisa (last edited Feb 05, 2015 12:46AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa (lisadannatt) | 304 comments Alexa wrote: "It is indeed difficult reading it, but I'm finding it challenging in a good way. Sort of stream of consciousness - I like your comment Lisa, about the chaos of (mostly her) thoughts reflecting the..."

And to add to your comment, this is not an overtly racist, racially-aggressive family. They don't perceive their entitlement and discrimination as such and would be very surprised if you were to point this out to them.

message 13: by Anastasia Kinderman, The Only (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anastasia Kinderman | 654 comments Mod
Lisa wrote: "Alexa wrote: "It is indeed difficult reading it, but I'm finding it challenging in a good way. Sort of stream of consciousness - I like your comment Lisa, about the chaos of (mostly her) thoughts ..."

I think that's how this continues to exist. Normally nice people who don't believe they're racist nevertheless unconsciously assume some things that are pretty racist/entitled. It's not "evil" people who keep this going, it's ignorant people.

Alexa (AlexaNC) | 435 comments And that's why I think this is so brilliant! As a reader, I completely identify with Maureen and I feel her discomfort and fear and general ickyness with the conditions. And then I'm brought to a complete halt as I realize, wait, if they're horrible for her, how much worse it is for those who've lived this way for generations, as they watch those around them in a completely different existence. She so easily gives us Maureen's sense of entitlement and lets us slowly realize the horrible injustice.

Alexa (AlexaNC) | 435 comments And when I want to complain about how depressing this is, I'm brought up short by what that says about my own sense of entitlement.

Andrea AKA Catsos Person (catsosperson) | 315 comments This book is difficult to read like assigned reading.

I can't follow very well follow what is going on.

I usually don't read chapter summaries from spark notes or snoop as I read because I like to form my own impressions, but in this case I'll have to break my rule so I'll have some idea of what I read.

On thing that I did understand and was struck by is that the Africans in this village are so poor that even paper money doesn't mean anything to them because they seem to be so remote/cut off from "civilization" where paper currency has value.

I would also like to know the ages of the Smales children.

Alexa (AlexaNC) | 435 comments I am finding that I need to read each section twice - first to get a sense of it and second to go back and really check that I understand it, the action and the thoughts and the dialogue all flow into one amorphous unit. Sometimes though I really enjoy the effect, while it is indeed challenging.

message 18: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa (lisadannatt) | 304 comments I'm doing the same Alexa, it's taking me longer than I'd like to read each chapter.
I'm also having quite a visceral reaction to the book. I can feel Bam Smale's terror at the deteriorating political environment from chapter 2. It raises current-day sentiments.

Alexa (AlexaNC) | 435 comments Yes, their terror is so palpable!

Carolien (carolien_s) | 105 comments The scenario she describes in Chapter 2 actually reminds me more of SA in the early 1990s after the unbanning of the ANC while the negotiations were being conducted to figure out what form a post-apartheid SA would take.

In the run up to the 1994 election, people stocked canned food, candles, water, etc in case some kind of horrible civil war as she describes here broke out. Most people had some escape plan. I remember a friend who have a pilot's licence explaining how you could fly at a very low height to Botswana in a light airplane.

At the time, there was mass murders in KZN on a daily basis and the hostel violence in Gauteng. A really good book on the latter is The Bang-Bang Club: Snapshots from a Hidden War.

The descriptions of large numbers of people killed in violence (although never large numbers of white people) became a reality. This article reflects on one event in those times (beware the photographs are graphic) http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/articl...

Alexa (AlexaNC) | 435 comments Which raises the question of whether Gordimer actually thought these events would happen, or whether she was raising the point that unless we do something this will happen.

Carolien (carolien_s) | 105 comments That's a very good question. I suspect it was a bit of both.

I found this statement by July's mother also very interesting: "What will the white people do to us now, God must save us."

They were so used to white people avenging any perceived wrong that she is expecting the might of the white government to descend on them in some form and cannot comprehend the end of it.

message 23: by Carolien (last edited Feb 20, 2015 11:26AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Carolien (carolien_s) | 105 comments Maureen describes her relationship with their domestic worker while living on the mines where her father seems to have been a mine captain. There are a number of photographs which record the interaction between white children and the black domestic workers during apartheid.

Here's one example by renowned photographer Peter Magubane in this article http://theliteratelens.com/2013/01/10.... The black women is sitting on the "Blacks only" side of the bus stop seat.

There's a brilliant display of apartheid photographs on in Johannesburg. Here's a selection http://www.citypress.co.za/multimedia...

message 24: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa (lisadannatt) | 304 comments Such poignant photos

message 25: by ☯Emily , The First (new) - added it

☯Emily  Ginder | 1164 comments Mod
Great links, Carolien.

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