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July's People (1981)

by Nadine Gordimer

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,636358,892 (3.5)187
For years, it has been what is called a 'deteriorating situation'. Now all over South Africa the cities are battlegrounds. The members of the Smales family - liberal whites - are rescued from the terror by their servant, July, who leads them to refuge in his native village. What happens to the Smaleses and to July - the shifts in character and relationships - gives us an unforgettable look into the terrifying, tacit understandings and misunderstandings between blacks and whites.… (more)
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» See also 187 mentions

English (32)  Dutch (1)  German (1)  All languages (34)
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
I registered a book at BookCrossing.com!
http://www.BookCrossing.com/journal/12851279

Quite a remarkable tale.

Gordimer has an unusual style of writing. It took me a few pages to get into it. I think it's worth working through.

In the 1970s, when South Africa was in turmoil, with black South Africans violently uprising, the white, liberal Smales family leaves their home in a rush. They follow their long-time servant, July, to his native home in the wild. As a rule, July only returned to his home every couple of years. Meantime, he sent money to his wife. Ever the faithful servant, he takes it upon himself to rescue his former employers.

The family is established in a hut built for another family member, which causes some resentment among July's family. Maureen and Bam Smales and their three children do not want to be waited upon, and try to pull their weight. The children, it turns out, adjust most easily to their new surroundings and companions, and are soon as happy running and jumping into the nearby muddy water as they ever were with their more sophisticated toys back home.

The story is told primarily from Maureen's point of view, although we get glimpses from the others. How she interprets what July says, how she tries to emulate the village women in what they do, how she worries about what will happen next. Any day they know they may be discovered. They know that villagers may give them away. And then what?

As the story progresses we gain insight into how July sees them and how his behavior and thinking changes. Does the Smales family have any idea at all about what others feel and think about them? Do they know how to behave?

The story shook me up. It put me right there with them, and when I think about it now, several weeks after finishing it, those feelings come right back. ( )
  slojudy | Sep 8, 2020 |
Everything in this book is difference and togetherness, borders and ideas of borders, the united and divided semblances of the human species, distilled into its true futility. Beautiful. ( )
  ephemeral_future | Aug 20, 2020 |
I could tell from the first couple of pages, I would not like the book. I did not understand it at all.
  booklover3258 | Nov 20, 2018 |
This book was almost too painful even to read, so raw and poignant, but I continued with it: there was that pull of a compelling story... The writing style itself is a bit scattered and jumpy, not flowing easily, sometimes making me re-read a sentence to fully comprehend it or to see who is actually talking in a dialogue. So I didn't care much for that part. But what impressed me was an intense try for objectivity - a white anti-apartheid writer trying to equally present the emotions of blacks and whites, the mindset of a white couple who genuinely consider themselves very fair towards their longtime black servant, until the roles sort of reverse - and then the conflicting emotions and unexpected thoughts arise in everybody involved. I wish there was a more clear denouement at the end. But the author decided to let us figure it out. ( )
1 vote Clara53 | Jun 9, 2018 |
[July's People] takes place in South Africa during the battles to end Apartheid in the 1980s. The white Smales family flees the city with their servant, July, escaping the violence to the relative safely of July's home village. There, the contrast between their former life as privileged whites and the life of July's family is explored. For a while, July acts the same role as in the city - the subservient servant making life comfortable for his employers. But as time goes on, the line shifts. His expertise at living in these very different conditions gives him power, as does his standing in his community. He starts using the Smales's car as though it is his own and controlling them in other ways as well. It's subtle, though. No one knows what will happen next. Certainly if they end up back in the city with things as they were, July will want his job to continue as it was and knows his status will revert so he doesn't make a big shift in attitude. At the same time the Smales's life changes and their eyes are opened to how others in their country live, but more they seem to realize the benefits of their way of life and miss some of the simple things they took for granted. Again, though, Gordimer approaches this with a subtle touch - it isn't just that they miss certain comforts, but sometimes more the ideas or meanings behind those comforts. There is also the constant unknown - should they flee South Africa, wait for things to stabilize and return home, or what? Their children, however, assimilate quickly to the way of life in the village. There are constant references to how they begin to behave like black children in how they play, eat, and speak.

This book is beautifully written and tastefully done. Unlike some other African novels that I've read by white authors, there isn't a pervasive racist tone. There is certainly comparison but it didn't feel judgmental to me. This is particularly impressive to me considering that the book was written in 1981 as the battle to end Apartheid was still occurring.

Definitely recommended for those interested in African literature. ( )
  japaul22 | Jun 2, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nadine Gordimerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Carroux, MargaretTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Loponen, SeppoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Oort, Dorinde vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
The old is dying and the new cannot be born;
in this interregnum there arises a great diversity
of morbid symptoms.
-Antonio Gramsci
Prison Notebooks
Dedication
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You like to have some cup of tea?
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Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Het oude sterft af en het nieuwe kan niet geboren worden; in dit interregnum ontstaat een grote verscheidenheid aan morbide symptomen. (Antonio Gramsci, gevangenisdagboeken)
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For years, it has been what is called a 'deteriorating situation'. Now all over South Africa the cities are battlegrounds. The members of the Smales family - liberal whites - are rescued from the terror by their servant, July, who leads them to refuge in his native village. What happens to the Smaleses and to July - the shifts in character and relationships - gives us an unforgettable look into the terrifying, tacit understandings and misunderstandings between blacks and whites.

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