13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars
A vision of Africa in the measure of disproportion., 23 Aug. 2001
Maureen Smales, the White bourgois wife and mother of three children in Johannesburg, finds herself in the middle of the South African wilderness, a guest of her own servant. The Smales have safely gone through the 1976 and the 1980s riots, but now the situation has gone beyond control. Black people are ravaging the country, raising hell for White people and chasing them out of their own houses. The Smales are 'lucky to be alive', that's why they have to put up with all the inconveniences of settlement in a hut in the middle of nowhere. the narrator meticulously depicts the White family's lapse into a black life of filth, physical discomfort and humiliating dependency upon their host, July. A spoilt servant from 'back there', July continues to maintain the previous relationship of black servant to white master, but the circumstances appear to be grossly inadequate to either that habitual relationship or the simple interplay of hosting accomodation. The narrative shows the gradual breakdown of white power, white urban ethics and etiquette and white racial superiority. The loss of the car and the gun are symbolic acts of castration of white civilisation, while no attempts to bridge the gap between the white family and the community of blacks that accomodates them are signalled. As the gap remains unbridgeable, the awesome aura of whiteness is gradually dispelled around the Smales as they lapse into physical degradation and repulsiveness. July's People is a piece of fiction that is beyond the grasp of its own characters, where the fictional confounds its own creation with the disproportionate sense of nightmare. Maureen Smales feels she is the inhabitant of a book and she dreamily moves through its thorny space. Gordimer's character is a trapped woman wondering at the magic of her captivity, whence no logic could ever liberate her.