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July's People
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GROUP READS > February FICTION selection JULY'S PEOPLE

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Alexa (AlexaNC) This month we are reading and discussing July's People by the Nobel Prize Winning Nadine Gordimer.


Taylor (seffietay) I got my copy this weekend and am happy to see that it's a very short book! Can't wait to dig in


Alexa (AlexaNC) I'm finding this challenging, but well worth the trouble!

It's an interesting book in that it defies conventional categorization. It's a sort of alternative history. This is Gordimer's prediction of how events might unfold from her perspective of 1981 - so at the time it might have been given a science fiction label?


Alexa (AlexaNC) I found this to be a quite intriguing paragraph (it's from p. 6 - so not at all spoilerish):
"The vehicle was bought for pleasure, as some women are said to be made for pleasure. His wife pulled the face of tasting something that set her teeth on edge, when he brought it home. But he defended the dyed-blonde jauntiness; yellow was cheerful, it repelled heat."

I'm at a loss as to why Gordimer throws out this analogy between a sport-truck and a (mistress?). It seems so out-of-context, yet there must be a purpose. Are these his thoughts, are they saying (perhaps?) "I'm a shallow person, I needed to do something fun for myself, I thought about having an affair, but instead I bought a truck that reminds me of the woman I secretly wish I had." ???


Alexa (AlexaNC) This is a really important book!


Alexa (AlexaNC) Does complaining about how depressing this is just show how privileged I am?


Alexa (AlexaNC) Reading this can definitely create an emotional turmoil, but I'm finding it well worth it - persevere!


Rebecca Glenn | 12 comments I'm new to the group -- really excited to be here. I just finished it! It was definitely a challenge, but worth it. I was not so crazy about the ending (I won't spoil it), it left so many questions unanswered for me.

Being unfamiliar with South African history, I had to look up some things. I found out that the author made up the civil war that she describes. It seems like it was a good way for her to show a shift in the balance of power.

Some of my favorite parts were when Maureen was talking to July and she was discovering how he really felt about her and about "serving" her. I also really liked that July wasn't even his real name. That said so much!

I thought this book was very powerful, but at times hard to read. I wasn't sure who was speaking sometimes and if we were reading a flashback from Maureen's childhood or not. But overall, it was very interesting. I see why the author won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Can't wait to hear what everyone else thinks!


Rebecca Glenn | 12 comments Alexa wrote: "Reading this can definitely create an emotional turmoil, but I'm finding it well worth it - persevere!"

I agree - you definitely have to persevere to get through it. I was glad it wasn't very long! I can't wait to see what you think about the ending...


Rebecca Glenn | 12 comments Stephanie wrote: "I got my copy this weekend and am happy to see that it's a very short book! Can't wait to dig in"

I just finished...can't wait to see what you think about it!


Alexa (AlexaNC) Yes, I think at the time it would have been categorized as speculative fiction. I've been reading it verrrrry sloooooowly. I find I need to take small bites of it. Her stream-of-consciousness writing style was quite difficult for me initially, but then I started to get the sense of it. I'm at about the 3/4 mark right now.

This was banned in South Africa when she wrote it, and I find that interesting, because on the surface she's not really saying anything about race - but under the surface the inequity is so obvious.


Rebecca Glenn | 12 comments Alexa wrote: "Yes, I think at the time it would have been categorized as speculative fiction. I've been reading it verrrrry sloooooowly. I find I need to take small bites of it. Her stream-of-consciousness wr..."

I agree -- her writing style can make it difficult to figure out exactly what is going on. I had to go back a lot to figure out if it was a flashback and whose point of view it was. I also found July's dialogue hard to read. Definitely had to slow way down when he was talking!


Alexa (AlexaNC) The difficulty in reading this is knowing that each of us is somehow complicit in existing in a world where this sort of inequity is accepted. It is so hard not to turn away.


Alexa (AlexaNC) That ending! I don't at all know what to make of it! And just when I thought I had the sense of what the book was about!


Alexa (AlexaNC) Would anyone call this feminist?


Rebecca Glenn | 12 comments I'm not sure I would call it feminist, but I do think that the author does a good job of presenting the many different lives of women in South Africa -- from the white suburban mom to the rural village women to the black town women.


Alexa (AlexaNC) I want to talk about the ending, but perhaps it's too soon? Well, I'll put it in spoiler tags: (view spoiler)


Rebecca Glenn | 12 comments Can we talk about the ending here?


Alexa (AlexaNC) Yes! We're in the last week of the month, so let's talk about the ending!


Rebecca Glenn | 12 comments I think the ending was intentionally vague -- she left it up to the reader to decide if their family was killed or rescued or just left in limbo. I think endings like that mirror real life war situations -- you never know what is going to happen in war and how it will end.

What do you think?


Alexa (AlexaNC) Yes that part of the ending was deliberately vague, and that doesn't bother me at all. What really bothers me was Maureen's reaction, and what Gordimer was trying to imply about her. Are we supposed to see her rush through the bush as abandoning her family, protecting them, an act of insanity, or what?


Rebecca Glenn | 12 comments I'm not sure - it could be any of the above. I would lean toward her protecting her family, but who knows. It seemed so chaotic at the end. I am a sucker for happy endings or at least endings that wrap up the story. I feel like I was left hanging!!


Alexa (AlexaNC) Yep, no happiness or wrapping up the story there! This book was grim as grim could be, and it just got worse and worse and worse. And then she hits us with the horror of just leaving us hanging!

The description of Maureen at the end just really struck me and left me reeling: “Fear climbs her hand-over-hand to throttle, hold her.” Is this fear of the helicopter (which seems much more likely) or fear that she’ll be kept from a possible rescue? “Like a solitary animal at the season when animals neither seek a mate nor take care of young, existing only for their lone survival, the enemy of all that would make claims of responsibility.” So she has become a beast? She alone loses her personhood? Or is she running towards her fear, which is only done as a protective measure for others?


Rebecca Glenn | 12 comments When you isolate that passage about being a solitary animal it makes it seem like she isn't trying to protect her children any more. But I'm not sure if that's because they are already dead?


Alexa (AlexaNC) No, doesn't it say she can hear them down by the river?

So, now I have a new theory about the ending: Maureen must rationally realize that the helicopter is far more likely to contain an enemy rather than a friend, yet then she finds herself irrationally running towards it. One interpretation of this is that she has decided that any form of "civilization" is better than none. That a helicopter, and its driver, are the life she wants as opposed to this hunter/gatherer life, and that she will do anything to get back to the life she wants, even abandon her children, even face death. So a few weeks of living this life have driven the last traces of humanity out of her, have turned her into something worse than an animal (that would protect her young) and have shown her as being far less resilient than the women of the village, who have successfully raised their children under these conditions for generations.


Rebecca Glenn | 12 comments Alexa wrote: "No, doesn't it say she can hear them down by the river?

So, now I have a new theory about the ending: Maureen must rationally realize that the helicopter is far more likely to contain an enemy ra..."


That could be it...definitely a possibility. But I'm not sure Maureen would actually abandon her children. Not after she had already been through so much with them. Of course I am coming at this from my own perspective as a mom, so I might be biased. :)


Alexa (AlexaNC) Yes, it totally shocked me too, I didn't see that coming. I'm just totally mystified by what Gordimer meant by that ending though. I just wish I could figure out what she means by: “Like a solitary animal at the season when animals neither seek a mate nor take care of young, existing only for their lone survival, the enemy of all that would make claims of responsibility.” I find it easier to think of it as a totally irrational act.


Alexa (AlexaNC) Stephanie, I just saw you finished this - what are your thoughts about that ending?


Taylor (seffietay) I did just finish it finally, and at first I was a bit confused thinking she was running AWAY from the copter to safety and ditching her family. But I think you are right, it feels right that it was more about her running towards the copter and whoever was in it in a desperate bid to get back to some semblance of the life she knew, the technology and the civilization.

I thought the book was strong, though I did also have trouble sometimes determining who was speaking... I also wish it was more developed but I think this is because a lot of the books I have been reading (published recently) are more about detailed descriptive narrative (is that even a thing?); this person said this then this person said that and then they did this together until we reach the end of the tale. I'm finding that the more novels I read that were published many years ago the more I feel that writers left a lot open to interpretation whereas nowadays there is a lot more handholding on the part of the author. Does that make sense? Maybe it's to do with how language has evolved, I don't know.


Alexa (AlexaNC) I would have to read more of her work to know, but I got the sense that the literary discomfort, the difficulty of reading it, paralleled the intense discomfort of the story itself.


Taylor (seffietay) That's a good point. I'm definitely interested in Burger's Daughter now, it would be nice to see if the style is different at all.


Alexa (AlexaNC) Yes! I'm adding it to the nominations list!


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