Sarah's Reviews > Cry, the Beloved Country

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
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Jul 14, 11

Read in July, 2011

“He went out of the door, and she watched him through the little window, walking slowly to the door of the church. Then she sat down at his table, and put her head on it, and was silent, with the patient suffering of black women, with the suffering of oxen, with the suffering of any that are mute.”

Cry, The Beloved Country is a gentle statement on anti-apartheid South African politics. Though this book was written by a novice, and there are several evidences of this, the whole of the book qualifies it as an important work.

I say gentle because the story is told through the experiences of two sympathetic characters: one a small Zulu tribe, country pastor and the other, a white farmer humbled by the untimely death of his son and by the truth he finds in search of the same. The pastor, Stephen Kumalo, while physically searching for his son in the depths of Johannesburg, encounters the troubles of his black people caused by the breaking down of their tribal communities...in their wake is only a lawlessness that is upheld by apartheid, or separateness. Kumalo's goodness allows him to discern light in the face of fear and to begin again a life dedicated to helping his people. The farmer, James Jarvis, while spiritually searching to know his murdered son, discovers a cause that promises healing, for himself and his country. Jarvis, now empowered by his son's life-work, sets in motion all that is necessary to save Kumalo's own people. Both men employ forgiveness and love as the most crucial tools for saving their country and themselves.

I could as easily have used the word tough instead of the word gentle to describe the tone of the book. Though Kumalo and Jarvis both have moral discernment to accompany them, the truths that they face are firm and unforgiving. That families and lives are being destroyed is hard. That men and women are losing their faith in the face of fear is immutable. That their children are being tossed into the tempest unprepared is absolute. And yet, that hope, in the face of ruin, will be an incredible feat is perhaps the most demanding truth. It is hope to which Jarvis' son, Arthur, dedicated his life. Arthur's treatise on the exploitation of the black population is as unrepentant in it's summation as the more devastating truths that beset Kumalo and Jarvis. Tough truths that cause fear and tough truths that call for action.

Why then, did I give this book an "I liked it" rating? I reference my comment that there are several evidences of Paton's novice. The story could have been better formed had both Jarvis' and Kumalo's stories developed and unfolded side-by-side rather than set against each other. Jarvis is missing a beginning. Likewise, I found it a bit boring in several places. And, though far less important to me, the punctuation was flawed with Paton's choice to use hyphenation instead of quotation marks to set off a character's speech...in my opinion.

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