Review: Cry, the beloved country by Alan Paton

29 May

I must admit that I was on the verge of crying several times while I was reading this book. Take me seriously; I rarely shed tears over a book, but this one almost made me cry.

The book tells the sad and simple story of Kumalo, a black Anglican priest from the countryside, gone to look for his son in the city:Johannesburg. His search leads him to a labyrinth of murder, prostitution, illicit brews, slum living etc. When he realizes the depth of things affecting his own family,(his son and sister) he almost loses hope. He meets Msimangu, a fellow priest, whose friendship sustains him in the seemingly futile search. The book ends full of hope, although justice is done (I don’t want to spoil the book for those who have not read!)

This book is interesting in many ways. First, it is set in the 1940’s-1950, a very strategic time inSouth Africaas far as racial awareness is concerned. In fact, it was Paton’s book that raised awareness about the apartheid inSouth Africa. When Kumalo travels from Ndotsheni toJohannesburg, he goes in the black compartment; there are two exits from the courtroom, as per the custom, which is rarely breached, if at all.

At the same time, Paton presents circumstances in the book in which these same customs are breached. When the people refuse to use the public transport (used mainly by blacks) enmasse to protest against increased fares, many white people offer lifts in their cars. The friendship that develops between Kumalo and Mr. Jarvis is incredible. It is interesting that Mr. Jarvis lived on his farm in the countryside, employing many black people, but he shook hands for the first time with a black person at his son’s funeral.

Secondly, it gives a valuable insight of the origin of such problems as slums and crime, a reality in many African cities. Definitely, each country is unique, but it is the same phenomenon all the same. When the youth leave their homes and head for the city, the leave behind their tribal customs that were their moral foundation, and according to the author, this is why so many of them end up in crime. The initiative that Kumalo comes up with to educate the people about proper farming methods, irrigation etc will at least make the farms productive once more and maybe not too many of the youth will flock to the city, looking for something to do with themselves.

Although it really sounds like an updated issue (black rights), the book is written in a poetic manner, such that it is impossible not to be moved (maybe this is the reason why I was on the verge of tears). The conversations are beautiful; they feel, at least to me, as though the characters were speaking in Zulu expressed in English!

Lastly, I could not resist the urge to add a paragraph (that gives the book its name) that I really like: 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 valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.

It is for these reasons that I think Cry, the beloved country deserves to be among the 20th century classics.

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4 Responses to “Review: Cry, the beloved country by Alan Paton”

  1. IntrovertedAnalyst May 30, 2012 at 4:42 am #

    This book was one of the favorites that I read in high school. I think what I recall most clearly about it is Kumalo’s struggles with his faith and how it related to all the suffering he was encountering. The book as a whole had a really heartbreaking contrast between the way different people cope with suffering and discontent, and that contrast told in such peaceful language made it a very beautiful read.

    • mary June 5, 2012 at 10:34 am #

      What moved me most was the immense suffering experienced by Kumalo, but most of all is the depth of friendship in the person of Msimangu, that supported him throughout. Without it, he would have despaired, I think. As you say, the language is very impressive, so sweet and tranquil, even in the midst of such deep suffering. A must read for all!

  2. nyashasam June 1, 2012 at 1:44 am #

    Great review, you did justice to this amazing piece of work that moved me to tears too, and you’re right it does read like it was translated directly from Zulu which gives it an even stronger voice.

    • mary June 5, 2012 at 10:30 am #

      I think that if I were to choose 10 books that have affected me deeply, this would be one of them. Many thanks!

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