Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton. 1948, Charles Scribner’s Sons
This is an outstanding novel by a South African author. It’s the story of a journey and a search. And a story of loss and new beginnings. The story centers around an old Anglican priest, Stephen Kumalo, who pastors a dying church in a small, also dying, South African village. Ignorance of agriculture has caused the soil to become barren and hard and the rivers to dry up, while the village people suffer and starve. The able-bodied men and young people have fled to Johannesburg, where they can find work and survive. These people include most of Stephen’s family, including his sister, Gertrude, his brother, John and Stephen’s son, Absalom.
The book opens with a letter, delivered to Stephen by a small child. Stephen and his wife, unaccustomed to receiving mail, are fearful to open it. When they finally do, they learn that Stephen’s sister is seriously ill in Johannesburg and needs his attention immediately. The cryptic letter is sent by an Anglican priest in Johannesburg, who is to become a central figure in the book.
Stephen and his wife pull out their entire savings, and Stephen begins the long trip to the city, hoping to find not only his sister, but his son and brother as well.
Stephen’s search leads him to all three, but the results are not joyous. He searches fruitlessly for his son, Absalom, hitting “just missed him’s at every turn. When he finally catches up to his son, Absalom has just been charged with murdering a white activist – the son of Stephen’s well-to-do neighbor in the small village.
This is a wrenching story of a man attempting to put his family and his village back together against all odds. It’s the story of a friendship between two men – one whose son was brutally killed by the other’s. The political strife of South Africa plays into the story, as does the difference between South African whites and blacks.
After Absalom is sentenced to death, the family’s hope and prayer is for the boy’s life to be spared through appeal. Stephen returns home to try and repair his tiny village and await word on his son’s fate.
The story ends with a sunrise, symbolizing hope in a dark world.
I highly recommend this book.
Out of five stars, I give Cry, The Beloved Country…..
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