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on September 30, 2003
This is the second Oprah's Book Club selection that I have read, although, like the first, I read it a few years back before that appellation was added. I was just expecting a sad story and some social commentary. I had no idea of the pathos and bitter irony that Paton would be able to wring from this ostensibly simple tale of fathers and sons. As far as African Literature goes, and I am by no means an expert, I would consider this the best novel that I have read, Achebe withstanding.
The story is centered on Reverend Stephen Kumalo, a Black Anglican Minister in a rural South Africal tribal community. He departs to look for his son Absalom quickly in the novel. The first part deals with his search in Johannesburg, which exposes some miserable and excruciating injustices to the native population. He is accompanied by a fellow minister, the Reverend Msimangu, a more liberal but nevertheless devoted preacher. We also meet John Kumalo, a leader for Black rights who has nevertheless become corrupt in his work. As Kumalo looks for his son he is exposed to these conditions for the first time, having never been out of his insular farming community before. Some of his observations are truly shocking.
The novel really picks up in the second part, when we discover what has happened of Absalom: he has killed a white man named Jarvis who was an idealist and fought for Black rights fiercely. This is where we meet his more bigoted father, James Jarvis, a rich farm owner who sees his bigotry validated when his son dies at the hands of a man he wanted to help. However, as Jarvis examines his son's writings and how he lived, he begins a powerful movement toward the idealism of his son. This corresponds with Kumalo's crisis over his son being a murderer. The most powerful moment is the brief conversation between Jarvis and Kumalo, which drips of conflict but nevertheless ends in closure and understanding.
The novel ends powerfully as well. Jarvis ends up giving a sizable portion of his fortune to help Kumalo's impoverished farmers, Absalom is (inevitably) executed for his offense, and the novel ends with Kumalo contemplating his life on the top of a mountain while the sun goes down, a fascinating juxtaposition of symbolism that wraps up an intriguing novel quite nicely.
This novel tackles a plethora of themes, most notably the relationships between fathers and sons, the rift between White and Black, rich and poor, and the proud and the fearful in both mid-twentieth century Africa (which would shortly make Apartheid an official policy) and in all society. It also shows how people will willing to sacrifice many things and live in fear instead of fixing the enormous social problems they face. What results is a devastating little novel about what happens in a post-imperialist society, which is as senseless as is is poignant. This is a book that is often required reading of High School students (it was for me) but it is a first step in understanding what happens in such societies, abroad and here. This book has a ring of bitter truth to it and is unforgettable without being lurid. A must read for anyone who thinks they know what injustice means but has never experienced it.
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This book has many beautiful themes tangled into its plot if you can dig through the many lengthy descriptions of the setting. While these descriptions are very wordy, the book would not be the same without them. They are tedious and repetitive, but Paton conveys the beauty of South Africa with the hardships and despair that the natives are facing.Paton does a wonderful job of showing exactly how Kumalo, the main character feels. From his characterizations, the reader understands his motives, thoughts and actions.
The setup of the book was confusing because the first section starts in chronological order, then the second section starts in the middle of the plot. Also, there are no quotations which makes the book hard to follow.
Overall, the novel celebrated two cultures reaching out to one another, and the bond between families especially father and son. For people who do not mind lavished detailed settings, I recommend this book highly because the themes taken out of it are unforgettable.
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on January 10, 2003
When first published in 1948 in apartheid South Africa, Cry, the Beloved Country raised more than eyebrows as a powerful book about the power of unity and an author's unflinching hope of a future where segregation no longer exists. The book summoned feelings of pride, optimism, and anticipation of a long-desired goal. But Paton's lyrical, poetic prose is not your typical run-of-the-mill anger evoking story about discrimination. The story is a humanizing experience that evokes feelings of sympathy and understanding, not hatred for a system so blatantly wrong.
In Cry, the Beloved Country, readers feel an uncanny connection to three things: the land, an old black rural priest searching in a corrupt city for his son, and an old white rural man confronting the loss of his son. All three aspects of the book are connected by a common thread. And a great thing about the book is that Paton doesn't feel the need to build up to the emotional climax by setting the readers against a well defined antagonist, or even an antagonist at all; on a micro-scale, the story is a moving tribute to man's inherent dignity; on a macro-scale, the themes and plethora of symbols are applied to man's all-too mortal nature.
This book is also a can't-miss for any fans of poetry who want to read a good work of prose. As the New Republic puts it, Cry, the Beloved Country is "the greatest novel to emerge out of the tragedy of South Africa, and one of the best novels of our time." I would be inclined to agree.
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on January 9, 2003
The evils of the Apartheid -- the subject of Cry, the Beloved Country -- have mercifully disappeared from South Africa, but Alan Paton's novel still entrances millions of readers. When we'd rather forget the atrocities of that era, Cry still bewitches us more than fifty years after its publication. Why?
Indeed, the work, similar to Barbara Kingsolver's the Poisonwood Bible, is a moving testament to the injustice and corruption of 1940's South Africa. The author's devotion to his homeland and the heartache he feels for her plight are eloquently etched on every page. He delineates some of the worst problems in detail, but expresses hope that they will ameliorate with cooperation and the genuine desire for reform.
Paton's masterpiece is far more than a protest against social and political issues, however. It is a tenderly evocative character study of three men molded and changed by suffering. A black Zulu priest journeys from his country village to dissolute Johannesburg to track down his profligate sister and son. The conditions in which he finds them and his efforts to save them profoundly affect his attitude about his avocation and prompt him to bring much-needed improvement to his village; the reverend's naive, impressionable son matures and repents of his wrongdoings during his murder trial; and the white father of the murdered man, rather than becoming bitter, is moved to compassion for the black villagers he oversees and brings about the means for the reform that the priest desires.
Cry beautifully recounts the separate odysseys of these three intertwined characters with the turmoil of South Africa as a fitting backdrop. Paton's phenomenally lyrical prose and unique narrative techniques are my favorite aspects of the novel, capturing Africa itself in all its graceful simplicity and painful upheaval.
This is why Cry still relates to readers so universally and on so many levels. Suffering, redemption, the ability of love to conquer obstacles, the fear and misuse of absolute power in a country torn by unbroken strife...these concepts will always strike a chord with every human being as long as the world keeps turning.
This ethereal story will touch you, inspire you, and remain with you for a lifetime. I am proud to rank it among my favorite books. I urge everyone to read it; it's well worth your time. You will fall in love with it as I have. Buy it now!
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on June 13, 2002
This book is one of the most incredible I have ever read. Many people rave about its depiction of apartheid and racism in South Africa, but it's so much more than that. This novel is a beautifully told story of one man's struggle against fate and a system set against him, of human compassion, and of renewal on a multitude of levels- the renewal of the physical earth, the lives of the people of Ndotsheni, and Kumalo's soul. The frailty and confusion felt by Kumalo, the anger at society of the young white social worker, the fear of young Kumalo, and the passion of Msimangu are all set beautifully against a vivid depiction of a racially divided South Africa in which the Africans themselves have no hope. Paton's style is perfect. His characters on occasion are a bit simple, but they are so vividly described that it seems that if there is a problem, it lies with you the reader! The settings are beautiful, and Paton's love of South Africa and thirst for equality run throughout the novel. Everyone should read this book.
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on June 8, 2002
Better than any "non-fiction" tale about Africa and Apartheid, this novel shows us the vast and multifacited project of colonialism, modernization and racism through the lens of real, concrete people and their experiences. Although he was white, Paton was a part of this epic and on-going saga, and so we shouldn't be so quick to dismiss his portrayal of black experience, especially since his life was spend struggling for equality. Affter hundreds of years living together, eating together, breeding together and fighting with each other, Africa will never again be "the dark continent" it once was. It is, and will continue to be, the most racially and culturally diverse country in the world: with "Cape-Coloreds" (yes, they are actually called that), British, Afrikaners, a vast array of different Native Africans, and every shade and hue there between. However, the question of how all these different groups will live together peacefully continues to haunt the country even now after the Mandella era, and this simple, profound, and poetic book takes dead aim at this ancient cultural conundrum, which has proven to be as perplexing as the Riddle of the Sphinx. The story is based on real trends in South Africa at the time, and so the plot is like a well-grounded historico-poetic synthesis. After his son is indicted for a murder, an old Zulu father comes down from the hills (which are suffering flagrant soil erosion from over-use) and heads for Johanesburg to find his son and discover the truth. Johanesburg has been a magnet to young impoverished Africans who go there to seek work opportunities and city life. Unfortunately, the boys often end up in laboring in the coal or diamond mines for pennies on the dollar, while the ladies end up selling their bodies and liquor. I'm not going to give the story away, but through his inquisitive quest the old Zulu ultimately reveals the heart and soul of an entire nation, and perhaps the world at large -- a world still suffering from the same cataclysmic industrial and cultural tensions. By far and away one of the best novels out there. Don't forget to read the introduction to this edition. Although most intros are boring and useless, this one provides a lot of important information about the life and experiences of Paton (he ran a school for poor black children) that are invaluable for understanding his perspective.
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on May 18, 2001
Cry, the Beloved Country is an enthralling story of a priest who's efforts are endless in the struggle of his own family, and the struggle outside. The way Paton details the scenes is to me, what made the book what it was. I felt as though I was looking at pictures while reading. He is so thorough in describing the lack of life in the valleys, that you can understand the significance in the title. What struck me most about this book, was Stephen Kumalo's efforts in forgiveness and the reconstruction of his family. His own family life struggle subtly reflected the outer stuggle, the black man's struggle. The last line of the story is most powerful when summarizing... "But when that dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret." That line points out a major theme in this book, and really gives the reader a sense of history, and a sense of what still remains, not as severe, today. I positively enjoyed reading this book. I found it to flow through the three books smoothly and coherently. It wasn't a burden to pick it up and read sixty or seventy pages at a time. My fascination with South Africa may have had an impact on choosing this book, but with that in mind, I knew I could enjoy what Paton hopes every citizen should be aware of. His powerful message would touch anyone who reads it, aware of apartheid or not. I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for some relaxed pleasure reading that won't boggle your mind or frustrate you in a confused sense.
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on May 16, 2001
this is my favourite book of all time! it is poetic, haunting, tragic, hopeful, beautiful--every range of human experience is covered. i can understand one reviwer's complaint that it is slow, i read it in high school and hated it, but iread it again years later and it blew my mind. it's rare that you see a truly original style among all the novels you'll read, i mean REALLY fresh language; case in point: "Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of oure fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the waters run through his fingers nor satnd 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 valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much."
i memorised the first chapter and recite it sometimes, amust read i think, it desrves to be read with patience and care, for its plot AND style. It rewards you every time you pick it up and you find something new to admire with each read.
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on February 16, 2001
Somehow this was a classic I "missed" in high school and college. I just finished reading it yesterday and still find myself thinking about many of the beautifully rendered scenes. Others have summarized the plot -- I love the labyrinthine (Dante-esque in scope) descent from the country side into the hell of Johannisburg. As we watch the narrator weave his way in and out of the horrible living conditions, we are presented with a modern day Inferno that would have made Dante proud.
The dialogue is rich and detailed and the character's well-developed. There are some gut wrenchingly scenes between a father and his son, not to mention between his other siblings as well. Bitter disappointments, difficult circumstances and a trial that makes To Kill a Mockingbird's look fair add to the book's tension. Overall, a lyrical and stirring portrait of unfairness and oppression (but also beauty and purity) in South Africa and one family's trials and tribulations. It makes one wonder how much things have really changed from Paton's day.
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on January 28, 2001
Somehow, in my slog through high school English, I was deprived of the reading of Paton's "Cry, the Beloved Country". Unlike many things, though, this was a true deprivation. I first read this several summers ago; though Paton's novel is specifically relevant to an era that is now receding into the past, his prose remains haunting. So deceptively simple is his language, yet flowing, this is almost a book best savoured aloud (well-worth the reading of to a friend).

Though apartheid has now blessedly slipped the scene, leaving South Africa with its aftermath to struggle through, Paton's story of the Reverend Kumalo's search for redemption is enduring. Perhaps most significant though, is the very simple idea at the core...reconciliation...of father with lost son, lost daughter...of murderer with the victim's Paton's time, and still so in our own...of each of us with our fellow humans.

This is a book that moves me deeply every time I read it, and loses nothing in a rereading. Of the thousands of books I have read, encompassing a myriad of styles, of academic fields...this is still the one book that I recommend without hesitation, without prejudice, to any and to every. This is a truly beautiful work.
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