Cry the beloved country

Alan Paton
Cry the beloved country

Cry the beloved country - Cover

Written by one of the great, white liberals supporting the Anti-Apartheid struggle over more than 50 years, Alain Paton is drafting a powerful novel going beyond the limits of paper by picturing South Africa in its depth.

Cry the beloved Country is the story of two families, a white and a black one, separated by the race barrier, hundred years of development and nevertheless closely linked to each other. The Zulu reverend Stephen Kumalo searching in the Johannesburg for his son Absalom and the white farmer James Jarvis loosing his son Arthur.

The book was written in 1948 and describes the conditions in the black shantytowns in contrast to the white settlements. It details the problem of the unequal distribution of land, leaving to the black population only such a small part of their ancestral land, that their traditions can only be destroyed. This unequal distribution of land is the issue of important development struggles of South Africa at that time and today as: erosion, rural exodus, overcrowded townships, destroyed families and traditions, violence, and hatred.

Paton has a very own style, which first seems strange but develops soon in an intense rhythm. The story is told more as a tale in a repetitive style reminding some ancient legends. This style is not easy to read but makes the book all together more authentic.

Cry the beloved Coutry pictures life in South Africa as what it has been for a long time and what it is to some extend until today: the white minority closing the eyes to or simply not knowing the black majority out of ignorance, fear and a feeling of superiority. The black majority, half aware of its power but intimidated by hundreds of years of oppression, a feeling of inferiority and fear, torn between hope and rebellion.

After having been to South Africa for three months, I perceived this book as parabola to South African life and history: dead, desperation, seemingly destroying everything but against all odds, people rise above themselves, crossing the invisible but still powerful border of race and their own fear. Thus, they show their pride for this country, a sometimes surprising and strong optimism, and making a promise of a better future.

Paton describes South Africa as what is can be: beautiful, amazing, welcoming, cruel, violent, desperately human – extreme and overwhelming.

Best quotation among others: “I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they (the white minority) are turned to loving, they will find that we (black population) are turned to hating.”

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