|A young Nadine Gordimer|
July's People (1981)
by Nadine Gordimer
I'm still a little bit shocked that Nadine Gordimer's 1974 Booker Prize winning novel, The Conservationist, didn't make the cut. Especially when you consider the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded in 1991, providing the crest of a career that lasted until 2012 (she died in 2014.) A third, Booker Prize winning Gordimer novel in the first edition of the 1001 Books list? No. But eight Coeteze novel's is totally, totally, cool.
July's People is a real winner- an alternate history where South Africa collapses into a racial civil war in the late 1970's. Her rich imagining I think inaugurates the idea of South Africa in a post-apocalyptic milieu. It is a vein of culture that has had some success at the widest general audience level in the United States, witness the rise of South African film maker Neil Blomkamp in movies like District 9.
Like many other books that are set in a post apocalyptic/alternate future, the chaos around serves to focus the story on a few characters, as people become isolated from one other after the collapse of society. The tension between July, an African house servant for a wealthy (and liberal) white couple with children, as he rescues them from the unrest by taking him to his native village. Despite the possibility of violence in every page, July's People ends up with a slow pulse rate, nothing erupts into madness, and in that regard, I was a little disappointed.