Novel to read while on Safari: Cry the Beloved Country

cover of Cry, Beloved Country by Alan Paton

cover of Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton

“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.” – Copyright (c) 1948 by Alan Paton

From the publisher: The most famous and important novel in South Africa’s history, and an immediate worldwide bestseller when it was published in 1948, Alan Paton’s impassioned novel about a black man’s country under white man’s law is a work of searing beauty. The eminent literary critic Lewis Gannett wrote, “We have had many novels from statesmen and reformers, almost all bad; many novels from poets, almost all thin. In Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country the statesman, the poet and the novelist meet in a unique harmony.”

Cry, the Beloved Country is the deeply moving story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son, Absalom, set against the background of a land and a people riven by racial injustice. Remarkable for its lyricism, unforgettable for character and incident, Cry, the Beloved Country is a classic work of love and hope, courage and endurance, born of the dignity of man.

About the Author
Alan Paton was born in 1903 in Pietermaritzburg, in the province of Natal, South Africa. Toward the end of World War II and during his tenure as principal of the Diepkloof Reformatory for delinquent boys near Johannesburg, Paton made a study of prisons and reformatories. He traveled to Sweden, England, Canada, and the United States. It was in Norway that Paton began to write Cry, the Beloved Country, which he finished three months later in San Francisco. He went on to write many articles and essays on South African affairs, and helped form South Africa’s Liberal Party. His other fictional works include the novel Too Late the Phalarope and the short story collection Tales from a Troubled Land. Alan Paton was one of South Africa’s greatest writers; he died in 1988.

From me:  I am told that this was a banned book in South Africa when it was first published in 1948. Maybe it was because the writer shows characters that yield a hope of a future where segregation no longer exists and blacks and whites can talk as true neighbors.  Having grown up in the deep south of the US, I know this can and is happening there.

Unfortunately, 60 years plus years later, South Africa has a long way to go… and it is not because of the people.  I have spoken to blacks and whites there and both are solid people.  It is more because of the “other issues” like the uncontrolled immigration from neighbor countries like Zimbabwe and Mozambique as well as nations with troubles further north.  The shanty towns near the larger cities continue to drive unemployment for the poor or uneducated and the infrastructure struggles onward.

So back to the book.  I think it is still quite relavent and is a compelling read.  Throughout the book one feels the stron connection to the land,, the old rural priest searching the corrupt city for a sun and an upper middle class rural man searching for understanding from his son’s death.  While a little complex to explain here, all three are well interwoven and drive the book to a somewhat expectable conclusion with a few twists (that probably caused some of the banning).

This book is not Botswana.  From what I see, Botswana has people of lower income, but not the pressures of larger cities and overpopulation.  It would be interesting to see a review of this book from one of the locals in Kasane.  All of that said, this is a key part of the puzzle that is soooo Southern Africa that it is a must read.

Movie version: Cry the Beloved Country

Movie version: Cry the Beloved Country

By the way, the book was also made into a movie with James Earl Jones and Richard Harris playing the lead roles.  The movie is often featured on South African Airlines and is worth a watch, but I suggest doing so either after reading the book, listening to the book on disc recorded version or, at minimum, on the return trip after experiencing Southern Africa.

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