Thursday, December 17, 2015

Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton

Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton
Narrated by Maggie Sobell
Published 1948
Source: my audiobook copy purchased at my local library sale

Publisher's Summary:
Stephen Kumalo, a Zulu priest, take the train to Johannesburg in search of his son, Absalom [and his sister, Gertrude] of whom he has heard nothing for many months. In his heart is a growing fear: fear of the unknown; fear of the great city that kills the souls of innocent children; fear of his aloneness in a world to which he no longer belongs; fear of never finding his son.

But unfaltering courage and simple faith lead him through a country now alien to him, past people to whom he is invisible, in search of a son and in search of answers to the questions that haunt him: what is justice? what is freedom? where is hope?

My Thoughts:
How is it that a book so marvelous as Cry, The Beloved Country garners so little attention? No great love story? Untrue. Paton is clearly in love with South Africa.
There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them, to Carisbrooke; and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa… The grass is rich and matted, you cannot see the soil. It holds the rain and the mist, and they seep into the ground, feeding the streams in every kloof. It is well-tended, and not too many cattle feed upon it; not too many fires burn it, laying bare the soil. Stand unshod upon it, for the ground is holy, being even as it came from the Creator. Keep it, guard it, care for it, for it keeps men, guards men, cares for men. Destroy it and man is destroyed.
No beautiful writing? Untrue. Paton's writing is poetic and vivid.
The journey had begun. And now the fear back again, the fear of the unknown, the fear of the great city where boys were killed crossing the street, the fear of Gertrude’s sickness. Deep down the fear for his son. Deep down the fear of a man who lives in a world not made for him, whose own world is slipping away, dying, being destroyed, beyond any recall.
Perhaps it is too quiet. Perhaps it is the religion. Perhaps it is the side journey's Paton takes, pieces that speak to the state of the country and mankind as much as to the story line. But they add so much to the bigger story.
We do not know, we do not know. We shall live from day to day, and put more locks on the doors, and get a fine fierce dog when the fine fierce bitch next door has pups, and hold on to our handbags more tenaciously; and the beauty of the trees by night, and the raptures of lovers under the stars, these things we shall forego. We shall forego the coming home drunken through the midnight streets, and the evening walk over the star-lit veld. We shall be careful, and knock this off our lives, and knock that off our lives, and hedge ourselves about with safety and precaution. And our lives will shrink, but they shall be the lives of superior beings; and we shall live with fear, but at least it will not be a fear of the unknown.
As a parent, as a person who is deeply attached to her family, Stephen Kumalo's discovery of the woman his sister has become and the things his son has done was heartbreaking. Along the way, though, he will also discover the good in man, in a fellow priest who drops everything to help Kumalo and in a man who, despite incredible tragedy in his own life finds it in his heart to help those in need.

I'm not sure that I have ever read a "classic" that spoke more to today's world than Cry, The Beloved Country, specifically race relations and the gap between the rich and the poor. Paton, a white man, doesn't entirely lay the blame for what happened to South Africa on the Europeans who settled there and makes a point to give both sides to the issues. But he pulls no punches, either.
The tragedy is not that things are broken. The tragedy is that they are not mended again… It suited the white man to break the tribe… but it has not suited him to build something in the place of what is broken.
It is a book I feel that everyone should read. It will make you think, it will make you question your own thoughts and actions. Hopefully, it will make you understand that we can only heal when we work together.
I see only one hope for our country, and that is when white men and black men, desiring neither power nor money, but desiring only the good of their country, come together to work for it.
I leave you with this - a quote I think applies to children in so many parts of the world, including many places right here in the United States.
Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.


  1. I started reading this years ago and lost interest. You've convinced me to give it another try.

    1. It's rather unusually written and does require attention. It's one that I think you need to be in the right frame of mind for.

  2. I hadn't really given this book much thought, but you make me want to read it, Lisa. I hope it touches me the way it has you.

    1. It just has so much to say that's so pertinent.

  3. Magnificent post for what sounds like a moving and magnificent book. I've never read it, though I know the title well. Thanks for including the quotes--the writing really is exceptional.

    Nicely done.