Better late than never, I finally got around to reading Alan Paton’s classic novel of South Africa Cry, the Beloved Country. Originally published in 1948, while black South Africans were suffering under apartheid rule, this book is beautifully written and tremendously moving.
Paton tells the story of a black minister from a rural area of South Africa, Stephen Kumalo. After hearing that his sister is ill, Kumalo journeys to Johannesburg to find her, his son, Absalom, and his brother. All have fled to the city to make a better life for themselves. Kumalo finds Absalom shortly after the murder of a white man. Absalom and two other young Zulu men are charged with the crime, with sadly predictable results.
Kumalo’s brother has become a powerful and militant speaker. His sister has fallen on hard times, and is now left with an illegitimate child to rear on her own. The sad fate of Kumalo’s family has afflicted many of South Africa’s rural blacks. Many go to work in the mines, never to be seen again by their families. Many turn to crime. Many simply die of hunger and disease.
The stories are all tragic, and yet this is a novel of hope and redemption. It is written in a deceptively simple, lyrical style. While apartheid no longer legally exists in South Africa, Cry, the Beloved Country has lessons for today, and probably forever.
Published in hardcover-Scribner-2003
Softcover edition- Scribner-2003
(N.B.-many other editions, but most not as available as the above.)