#316 July’s People

I started reading a Natalie Gordimer novel a couple of years ago and am still half way through it (but had to return it to the library and haven’t been able to bring myself to get it out again since) so was a bit wary of getting this out – but at 190 pages, July’s People is considerably shorter so I thought I could probably give it a go.
Natalie Gordimer is a South African novelist and it annoys me that I haven’t managed to get through more of her work because I think there are a few on the list because it means I’m missing out on reading about a country and culture of which I don’t really have much knowledge – especially because her books seem to be quite politically charged. July’s People follows the Smales, a white family, who are taken in by July – their black servant – and hidden in his native village when Johannesburg is taken over by riots and looting, with white people being chased away following the violent (fictional) overturn of apartheid. The family of five find themselves living in July’s mother’s hut instead of their bricks and mortar house with only the clothes on their backs for an undetermined amount of time, desperately listening for updates on the radio they managed to remember to bring. The narrative centres around the mother of the family, Maureen, and the shifting dynamic of the family and the servant – which is painful to witness in many situations, particularly as Maureen regards herself as liberal and a “kind” employer (it causes her great discomfort when July repeatedly refers to her husband as “Master”). It also shows the contrast between July’s village life, inhabited by his wife, mother and children and, usually, only himself every two and a half years, and the life he leads in Jo’burg working for the Smales: complete with his own quarters, many of possessions than in the village, and girlfriend in town.
The Smales family therefore have to adapt to survive in fairly extreme and threatening of circumstances and also have to try and fit in in July’s village, where they’re obviously set apart by their skin colour, customs and language despite it being their hiding place. It is an interesting story but I wouldn’t say I liked it that much – there are a lot of snapshots in the narrative which make it slightly disjointed and made me have to reread a lot of sections and I didn’t feel like I could properly connect with a lot of the characters.

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