I had never heard of Paton’s novel and the passing of Mandela whilst I perused it was an unexpected coincidence. This did, intensify its impact, however, and at the same time sadden me that while some changes have been made, there’s certainly, and sadly, a long while to go. Published in 1948, Paton had keen insight into the absurdities and complexities of a segregated society and captured the period with grace and humility.
A parson from a poor African village journeys to Johannesburg in search of his son, brother and sister, all of whom have left and have sent no word of their whereabouts. The trip is eye-opening and while fraught with tragedy, it is also one of hope and salvation.
Reverend Stephen Kumalo addressed as umfundisi is a humble and introspective man devoted to his family and church. When his son and other family members leave the small village for the big city and are not heard from, he is prompted to search for them. His travels are both heartbreaking and uplifting yet this man out of his element displays dignity in the face of all that comes his way.
Brother to Stephen, John is his polar opposite; outspoken, opinionated and given to drink and profanity. He has found his place in Johannesburg and enjoys the small amount of power he has gained as a speaker of the people. He enjoys being at the center of things, yet he is not able to follow through on his ideas for a worker’s strike.
James Jarvis is more alike Stephen Kumalo than his own brother. A quiet and reserved man, the murder of his son opens his eyes to the work his son was doing addressing the inequities in South Africa. An unlikely friendship between the parson and this grieving father is a beautiful one indeed.
I see only one hope for our country, and that is when white men and black men, desiring neither power nor money, but desiring only the good of their country, come together to work for it.
I am sure Mr. Paton would be an easy person to speak to and believe he’d put me at ease and be amenable to my numerous queries. I’d love to ask him about his time as a teacher and his observations in various prison systems. Obviously a natural talent, I’d still prod him for some writing tips.
My rating for Cry, the Beloved Country is an 8 out of 10.
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