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September Roses
Winter, Jeanette; September Roses. New York: Farrar / Frances Foster, 2004. $14.00, ISBN 0 374 36736 1.

Note: On September 11, 2001, two sisters from South Africa find a good use for the roses they have grown when the flower show in New York City is canceled due to the attack on the World Trade Center.

September Roses_ is a simple, beautiful story based on fact in which Jeanette Winter offers eloquent insight into issues of compassion and contemporary globalisation without becoming cheesy or clichd. The universality of the story's context is not necessarily a given, however.

Square in format, _September Roses_ is a nifty little book in which Winter successfully blends visual devices with a story line, making use of diverse compositional principles, using the freshness of the white page and the emotional bleakness of grey as a linking colour. There are explosive scenes, sad ones, which literally drown in tears, and splendid colourful ones, albeit rendered with a palette limited in intensity and subtlety.

Winter's story focuses on one act of memorialising the victims of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, on 11 September 2001. It takes the reader far away from America to the South African home of two commercial rose growers. They're sisters, they're black and it is their project to show their work in New York. Their context is a little ambiguous though: the empowerment of black rural women in Africa generally, is a major project and focus in South Africa and indeed, the rest of the western world. These rose growers work with the aid of a greenhouse, but remain in traditional garb. It is not clear whether they are linked to rural practices or are suburban women practicing a beautiful hobby.

The story of the sisters is recounted in direct, readable terms and the dovetailing of their bringing their lovely produce to showcase in New York and the mass mourning for the WTC victims is poetic. Winter makes sensitive yet quirky use of visual conventional devices like perspective, and in a number of double page spreads she offers a delightful splayed understanding of people and traffic on the streets as seen from above, but understood within a child's perception.

The events of 9/11 are downplayed, almost to the level of it reading like a natural disaster of some kind. This offsets the contextual legibility of the story. As the years pass, 9/11 will remain a blemished global memory, but it is not convincing that small children will be able to access it in terms of its implications through _September Roses_. Winter alludes to it a tad too obliquely, and while she handles the story with clarity, she does subtly avert its context for a young child reading alone.

_September Roses_ gives insight into South African beauty without becoming forced or exotic. The main thrust of the narrative is on the humanity of the protagonists and it is the generosity of spirit and simple aesthetics that wins the day.


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Rating: R Grade: P Type: Book

Reviewed by: Robyn Sassen, Department of History of Art, University of South Africa

Subject: South Africa / Fiction / Sisters / Urban setting