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
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
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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Reviewed by: Robyn Sassen, Department of History of Art, University of South Africa
Subject: South Africa / Fiction / Sisters / Urban setting