Cry, the Beloved Country is heartbreaking and beautiful. The author calls it,
a song of love for one’s far distant country…
That country is South Africa, 1946. It is clear that Alan Paton loved the land and the people.
Stand unshod upon it, for the ground is holy, being even as it came from the Creator. Keep it, guard it, care for it, for it keeps men, guards men, cares for men.
Paton’s best-known book is the tale of two men: Stephen Kumalo and James Jarvis, and the extraordinary events that bind their lives together.
Kumalo, a Zulu by birth, is the Christian priest, or umfundisi, to his poor rural parish in eastern South Africa. Not far away lives Stephen Jarvis a wealthy white landowner. In spite of their proximity, neither has much to do with the other. There is no hatred, no fear…there is nothing. Until tragedy brings them together.
Paton depicts his far distant country through his cast of characters, such as the priest Msimangu
The tragedy is not that things are broken. The tragedy is that they are not mended again.
Who elsewhere says…
I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find we are turned to hating.
Paton writes his love song, with the words of the white priest, Father Vincent…
My friend, your anxiety turned to fear, and your fear turned to sorrow. But sorrow is better than fear. For fear impoverishes always, while sorrow may enrich.
It seems that God has turned from me, he [Kumalo] said.That may seem to happen, said Father Vincent. But it does not happen, never, never, does it happen.
And by the acts of Mrs. Lithebe who, whenever she is thanked for her kind assistance, simply replies…
Why else do we live?
And Paton reveals his broken heart for the beloved country, in the written and unfinished speech of Jarvis’ activist son Arthur Jarvis.
It was permissible to allow the destruction of a tribal system that impeded the growth of the country. It was permissible to believe that its destruction was inevitable. But it is not permissible to watch its destruction and to replace it by nothing…
And of course, by his own narrative.
Cry for the broken tribe, for the law and the custom that is gone. Aye, and cry aloud for the man who is dead, for the woman and children bereaved. Cry, the beloved country, these things are not yet at an end. The sun pours down on the earth, on the lovely land that man cannot enjoy. He knows only the fear of his heart.
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 a valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.
I have described this novel as tragic and heartbreaking, and indeed, it is both, but it is also hopeful. For although Kumalo and Jarvis are thrown together by events that could have made them bitter enemies, they somehow, find the common ground, and the ground, the land, the beloved country…begin to heal.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Have you read Cry, the Beloved Country or Alan Paton? What did you think? I did not read this due to the racial divide that has recently surfaced in the U.S. This book has been in my queue literally for years, and it was merely next up on my list. However, it was timely and reminded me of my sorrow for my beloved country. I find solace in the words of Father Vincent…that sorrow may enrich.
May it be so.
With this novel, I completed The Classics Club Challenge (round II).
This novel also satisfies square O1, Classic of Africa in the 2020 Classic Bingo Challenge.
For it was not only a voice of gold, but it was the voice of a man whose heart was golden, reading from a book of golden words. And the people were silent, and Kumalo was silent, for when are three such things found in one place together? ~ Kumalo upon hearing Msimangu speak
Because the land is a land of fear, a Judge must be without fear... ~ narrative