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Nadine Gordimer: July’s People

Gordimer always seems to choose brilliant quotes to set off the theme of her novel. For this one, the quote is The old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum there arises a great diversity of morbid symptoms and comes from Gramsci‘s Prison Notebooks. The novel is about the revolution that she predicts will break out in South Africa. July is the black manservant of Bam and Maureen Smales and, when the revolution seems to be reaching them, they all flee to July’s village. Obviously, the story is about how the white family adapts (or does not adapt) to living in a black village where they are neither the masters nor in the majority. The children more or less adapt. Bam, no longer in charge, and losing his symbols of authority (his car keys, taken by July, and his gun taken by July’s son, who joins the guerrilla movement) has the most difficulty, though Maureen finds her views challenged when July is no longer her servant in the way he used to be. Of course, Gordimer pokes fun at their ignorance of July and his people. They do not know his real name, do not know what language he speaks (and, of course, know not a word of the language) and, in general, know nothing about his people. Much of the short novel is about the relationship between July and Maureen and, as in other Gordimer novels, there is clear sexual tension. And, as in other Gordimer novels, the whites are clearly out of their depth by the end and lost, unsure of the world they now find themselves in.

Publishing history

First published 1981 by Jonathan Cape/Viking