Genre: Political fiction, African Literature
Narrative Style: Third person from various points of view
Synopsis: Violence has broken out in South Africa and this time the rebels have planes and bombs at their disposal. Bam and Maureen Smales and their children are rescued by their servant, July, who takes them to his village. This changes their relationship in ways that they could not have envisaged and inevitably leads to tension between the servant and his former masters.
Reading Challenges: Eclectic Reader Challenge – genre: Set in a country beginning with S – South Africa
I must admit that I do not know a lot about the history of South Africa. At the point when this novel is set, I was nine years old. I was aware of the situation in the same way that I was aware of the Irish problems of those years. There was often violence on the TV but I didn’t really understand the reasons behind it or who I should have sympathy for.
In this novel, it is easy to have sympathy for both sides. The Smales are liberal whites who have tried their hardest to be fair to their servant and treat him with respect. So much so that he decides to rescue them. However, they are still on the side of privilege and they really understand little of July’s life outside of serving them.
This is brought into clear relief when they are brought to his village. They are no longer in charge of him or their lives. They are placed in the position of the blacks in South Africa. They are displaced and have no control and they do not like it.
It is equally difficult for July and his family to cope with the Smales’ presence. July’s wife and mother do not trust them and they reject Maureen’s attempts to try to help and laugh at her because she does not have their skills at picking the right plants or cooking them properly. July is caught in the awkward position of having more power than the people he has been serving, something they all find difficult to deal with.
This was a clever look at power and relationships within a racist society and it shows that it is anything but simple to resolve. The only complaint I would have is that I sometimes found it difficult to follow Gordimer’s prose. It was sometimes hard to know who’s point of view was being given or who was speaking. Other than that, this was an excellent dissection of a harmful power structure.