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Classic tale of dignity of mankind.
Apr 27, 2009 03:52 PM 1667 Views



Cry, The Beloved Country, is aprofound, majestic novel that depicts South Africa during thepovertised years of British rule. It is a novel about a black man'scountry under white man's law. It is about all kinds of injustices thatman inflicts on his own brothers.

Alan Paton, born inPeitermaritzburg, Natal, saw South Africa in the worst of times.Britain was the ruling power, and in a country that had belonged to theblack man for centuries, where the overwhelming majority of thepopulation was black, and where black man was the infrastructure, blackwas considered inferior. It was a time of racial, political, and socialinjustice, and it was all directed at the black man. Black wasconsidered stupid, black was considered dirty, and unintelliegent. AsAlan Paton's Robin Hood, Arthur Jarvis, writes in a speech in the book, "We say we withhold education because the black child has not theintelligence to profit by it; we withhold oppurtunity to develop giftsbecause black man have no gifts; we justify our action by saying thatit took us thousands of years to achieve our own advancement, and itwould be foolish to suppose that it will take the black man any lessertime, and that therefore there is no need to hurry. We shift our groundagain when a black man does acheive something remarkable, and decidethat it is a Christian kindness not to let black men become remarkable.Thus, even our God becomes a confused and inconsistent creature, givinggifts and denying them employment."

This alone is sowell-written, so well-synchronised with the rest of the book, that itsends shivers down my spine to read it. Paton is a master of words, ofnuances, of dialogue, and meaning. He will draw you into a world whereit is not difficult to understand the plight of the black man in hisown country, and it is even easier to become one of them, on theirside, hoping for all it's worth that they survive.

Headopts John Steinbeck's method of dialogue, with the dash coming beforethe actual speech and no quote marks. It gives the novel fluidity, makes it all come together. It also lends a sort of serious sadness tothe characters' speeches, and it makes their words resound in silence, almost like a word spoken aloud in a lonely, deserted, desolate church, coming from nowhere and ending nowhere.

Religion is acenterpoint, as Paton's main character is a Zulu pastor whose church isin a povertised, dry valley "of old men and old women, of mothers andchildren." The men have gone away to Johannesburg, one of SouthAfrica's major cities whose central industry is gold mining. It is acity of sin and dirt, that has come, because of the white man, betweenthe tribe and its people. Paton displays the city and its people, blackand white, as corrupt, so evil that even someone innocent and whole, fresh from the grasslands, is overtaken by its filth. This is hard fora man whose innocent life revolved, in its entirety, around theprinciples of God, Church, and Goodness.

Stephen Kumalo, thepastor, comes to Johannesburg to seek out his sister. She went to lookfor her husband, who disappeared into the jaws of the city and nevercame back. She also is eaten, and Kumalo gives her up for lost. Hisson, Absalom Kumalo, goes to Johannesburg to look for his aunt, and isnever seen or heard from again. Stephen, upon receiving news of hisailing sister from a kind-hearted pastor in Johannesburg, gathers uphis worldly posessions and sets off in search of his lost family. Hecombs the streets and slums of Johannesburg and its surrounding areaswith his pastor friend, following the ghosts of his sister and son fromone place to another without pause. His friend, at first, seemsinconspicuous and unimportant, but as the story progresses, Patonsubtlely introduces Johannesburg through the eyes of one that knows ofit's ability to corrupt, maim, and discard. This friend drops manyhints of wisdom, of profoundness, and of depth.

Kumalofinds his sister and son, but in what condition I will leave you todiscover. The novel will not be the same if you know what's going tohappen, not because it's like that with every book, but because thesurprise of its incidents is part of its enigma, and Johannesburg'shorror.

This novel is so rich, so adept in describing thesorrow of mankind, the frustration, the incredible sadness of life in atorn world, that it will draw you in, capture you in a way you neverbelieved possible, in a way you will remember long after you turn thelast page.

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Cry, The Beloved Country - Alan Paton