Saturday, January 29, 2011

Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton

283 pages
Published 1948
Charles Scribner's Sons
New York, NY

"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." (Chpt 12, pg 80)
I knew little to nothing of Alan Paton's Cry, The Beloved Country before picking up a copy to read for my book club, but I looked forward to reading it with great anticipation as I wanted to know why it had been an immediate best-seller upon publication in 1948 and why it continued to sell some 70 years later.

Set in South Africa in the late 1940s, Cry, The Beloved Country tells the heart wrenching story of a Zulu pastor, Stephen Kumalo and the people of his country. As the story begins Stephen and his wife sacrifice their life savings so that Stephen may go in search of his lost son, Absalom, who they fear is in great trouble. The backdrop for his journey is a land of beauty and rich history, but also one filled with injustice, racism, poverty, and fear. As Stephen hunts for his son he encounters many different people, some whom he is able to help and a great deal more who are able to help him. This story may seem tragic at first, but if the reader stops to ponder the heart of book as a whole it becomes quite clear that it is more than that. It is a story of redemption, of hope and courage, and of God's love for ALL of his people.

From the first page I was drawn in. Paton's storytelling is simple and his chapters brief, yet his descriptions are vivid. It was if I were watching each scene pass before my eyes rather than words. The characters and places are real to life and the plot is tragically moving yet redemptive and thus beautiful. I was likewise fascinated by the social commentary aspect of the book. Much like Charles Dickens and Anthony Trollope did in their day, Alan Paton took a fictional story and wove within it serious issues of the day (i.e. racism, greed, poverty, illiteracy, etc.). It is said that Paton's personal motto was "South Africa must be saved one person at a time." I think perhaps Cry, The Beloved Country was his attempt to share his heart's calling with mankind worldwide one reader at a time.
"It is my own belief that the only power which can resist the power of fear is the power of love. It's a weak thing and a tender thing; men despise and deride it. But I look for the day when in South Africa we should realize that they only lasting and worthwhile solution of our grave and profound problems lies not in the use of power, but in that understanding and compassion without which human life is an intolerable bondage, condemning us all to an existence of violence, misery, and fear." (Alan Paton, Intro. ixi)
In retrospect Cry, The Beloved Country is a book I truly enjoyed reading and highly recommend to other readers. It is a classic that is applicable to any person, any country, and at any time. There is always a lesson to be learned if the reader's heart is open.

Feeling thus I was not surprised to learn that
Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton is on the list of 1,000 books you must read before you die. While there are a smattering of books on that list that I really believe aren't worth any reader's time to read, this is not one of those. Cry, The Beloved Country is not only a worthwhile read, it is a true piece of literature.

For those who would like to learn more about Alan Paton or his book be sure to check out the links I've provided below.

* The Alan Paton Centre & Struggle Archives
* Cry, The Beloved Country (Audio Book)
* Simon & Schuster: Cry, The Beloved Country
* Wikipedia: Cry, The Beloved Country
* Wikipedia: Alan Paton
* Cry, The Beloved Country Timeline
* SparkNotes: Cry, The Beloved Country
* Alan Paton's Cry, The Beloved Country: A Tale of Two Media by Dr. Glenn Statile (Word Doc)


hopeinbrazil said...

Yes, this book was a surprise to me too when I first read it. What a treasure!

ibeeeg said...

I agree with you that it is a true piece of literature. This book is on my Must Read lists for my children at some point during their lives and for my friends (when they ask). However, unlike you, it took me a bit to get use to his style of writing, and I actually needed to be encouraged by a friend to give the book another go after setting aside...I am glad I listened to her.

Rachelle said...

One of my favorites. :)

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

O read this one for the first time a couple of years ago and loved it, too. Such evocative writing!

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

I want to remain in the dark about this book as I have it in my shelf. lol.

Mystica said...

I have heard of this and not read it. Time I got around to finding it.