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on December 3, 2000
My own grandfather was very close to Alan Paton. They worked together, in South Africa, on the developments of a Liberal Party, the purpose of which was to help the blacks. They wanted, primarily, to create legally equality of the races. Eventually, Paton would come to North America, touring and lecturing. My grandparents showed him Toronto. And so, I myself have a special bias in favour of Paton.
Having read his CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY, I can only applaud the man. His very style is mimical of Steibeck's THE GRAPES OF WRATH. There is repitition (individual sentences are said over and over), poetry, and the asking of philosophical questions.
The story is of Stephen Kumalo, a black priest. He has lost his family. His brother, sister, and son have left the village. They have gone to Johannesburg, where the white men are. Where industry is. And so the journey begins. In fact, Kumalo will see things he has never seen before. He will be robbed, he will be lied to, he will be tired of walking so many miles, he will see prostitution, crime, hatred. The simplicity of his beautiful village is not found here in Johannesburg. Incidentally, he finds some white men who show compassion to him. I will say no more.
The story has depth of passion, brilliance, and love of South Africa. Paton, himself a white man, devoted his life to the helping of blacks. He was a hero to South Africa, and remains a hero even to me.
Please read this book.
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on May 28, 2004
Although I was apprehensive about reading an Oprah Book Club book (I am a male in my mid-twenties and don't usually like the same books as females my age or older), I heard a lot of really good things about it and decided to read it. I am very glad that I did. Although it takes place during apartheid South Africa, that is not the only theme in the book. It also deals with major political topics like poverty and crime as well as personal topics like grief, shame, and charity. In the end you are left reflecting on how you would deal with grief, and what is social justice.
Paton writes in a very colloquial language, which really gives you the feel of being in South Africa at the time. While I really enjoyed this, I know some people don't like books written in that style and with poor grammar. This book is amazing - and it still makes me think long after I have read it. I don't give many books 5 stars, but this one truly deserved it. This book is definitely a classic.
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Ah yes, Cry, the Beloved Country. Fodder for high school reading lists for time immemorial... or at least since it was written. I won't blather on at great length about this one as it has been acclaimed and written about almost unto inanity but it is worth a few words.

The very high level overview of the story: A native South African priest from a struggling rural village braves the white-dominated big city in search of his lost family. I suspect that much of the reason that the book has made its way into so many schools is that it exposes one to the issues of apartheid and bigotry of the region which, let's face it, as Americans we're not particularly well aware of. This is one of those forgotten but important bits of history that aren't really at the forefront of the American consciousness. It's well worth a perusal as a history lesson if nothing else.

From a reading and enjoyment standpoint the book does suffer a bit. I staggered through the first 70 pages over the course of several days and completely failed to hit my stride. The book is heavy in conversations so the use of the South African dialect can at times be unbalancing and distracting and characters are well developed but often hard to tell apart. At least some of this stems from my inability to engage with the book early on but I would argue that lack of engagement comes too from confusion of one character with another.

On balance, a great work but one that must be approached in a more scholarly manner. Certainly not one to be taken on the train with all manner of conversations going on around you as distraction. Sit a savor or save for a lazy Saturday afternoon and blow through in one long and savory trip.
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on June 23, 2004
Have you ever set up dominoes on their end all in a line, then once they are all set up you touch the first one and it sets off a cascade effect knocking them all over one at a time? The beginning of the game is slow and tedious, but the cascade effect is worth it. Some classics are like setting up dominoes. They begin slowly, and the unfortunate reader will put the book down in disgust and never return to it. A more persistent reader is richly rewarded for their patience. Cry, The Beloved Country is that kind of a classic, others are Tale of Two Cities, Dickens and Jane Eyre, Bronte.
The language is beautiful, I don't enjoy flowery descriptions of scenery, but in Cry the descriptions helped you feel as if you were there without being too lengthy. The characters are well developed, and some are people I would really love to know. However, because I did care about the characters, the story in the beginning, is just so sad that I almost fell into that catagory of unfortunate readers who quit reading early and miss out on the treasure. I'm grateful that I didn't.
Inspite of the difficult beginning, this has become one of my favorite books. It carries you from despair to hope. It is a story about South Africa and its people, but it is also a story that has something for each of us.
Cry, The Beloved County leaves you a better person when you put it down than when you started it. It is a journey not to be missed.
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on December 23, 2003
"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." This is an excerpt from the book Cry, the Beloved Country, which is about the story of a Zulu pastor named Stephen Kumalo and his son Absalom in the troubled times of South Africa in the 1940's.
A trend has been made in the small village of Ndotsheni, Natal that the youth migrate to the cities where they see more of an economic chance, for there is industry in big cities. They do not realize the dangers and crime which also lie in wait in the big city. Kumalo's brother, sister, and son all have journeyed to the "white man's town" of Johannesburg in search of a better life, only to be seized by the foul hand of impoverishment and discrimination.
This being said, the tale is about Kumalo and his search for his son in the mazy streets of Johannesburg. Along the way Kumalo faces many trials and travails, including robbery, adultery, deceit, and miles upon endless miles of walking. This is the base of the direct plot, but there also is an underlying plot of love intertwined within this story. There lie messages of loss, guilt, and murder in this story. But through everything else, the most prominent message this book states is the love one man has for his people and most of all, his country.
This book relays a message of unfailing love for human society sans racial barriers. I found it very interesting, although it was a bit tricky to read, as it was written without quotations and indications of who said what. Once you adjusted, it was a marvelous tale about the historic times of South African injustice, inequality, and Christianity of the mid-1900's.
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on November 6, 2003
The Reverend Kumalo is at the center of a social experiment that has destroyed tribes, families, societal values and human beings. He is a poverty-stricken minister, caring for his flock of villagers living in a drought-stricken area of South Africa. The drought and its devastating effects on the capacity of the already-poor to farm and provide for their families seems to be a metaphor for the human drought born of racism and emerging apartheid.
The land will no longer feed them, the young flock to already-teeming Johannesburg and they then get swallowed up in the further degradation of thievery, murder and prostitution. And the majority Afrikkaners then satisfy themselves with the proof positive that blacks are inherently weak, untrustworthy, lazy and are beneath dignity.
This novel both paints a devastating picture of everything that's wrong with racism and the ensuing apartheid while holding out hope that there are some among the white who see the problem as clearly as Reverend Kumalo and strive to do something about it. Unfortunately, however, those who advocate for the despised sometimes get destroyed in the process.
And that is exactly what happens to one idealistic young man, the son of a wealthy Afrikkaner landowner, who writes extensively and publicly advocates for those who have no power. But the young man is not destroyed by one of his own, who fears a change in the power balance, but by one of those for whom he advocates.
Each father mourns the loss of his son; the father of the murdered knows the white man's justice will prevail but will still leave him childless and the black man's father knows he has lost a son on two counts. One, he lost his son when Absalom left the village and broke all communication with his heartbroken parents. Two, for a black man who killed a white man, there is only the white man's justice.
Reverend Kumalo meets the good, the bad, the indifferent, the greedy and the generous. His dialogue is that of a humble man, loved by his townspeople, deeply respectful of others. While his demeanor is very self-deprecating, he cannot be mistaken for one who is servile. Reverend Kumalo's deep understanding of human beings, with all their inherent imperfections and machinations, is awesome. Despite this, he forgives.
Thankfully, despite his great personal losses, Reverend Kumalo witnesses a number of small miracles thanks to an unexpected source. His benefactor, and that of the village's, is the father of the young man who was murdered.
This is an eloquent book written by one who truly understood the evil and great destructive powers of any system that strips a people, any people, of their basic and fundamental rights to be
respected, independent and self governing.
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on October 29, 2003
Cry, The Beloved Country, by Alan Paton is truly a compelling novel. It is brilliantly written and had me intrigued throughout the entire novel. The rich text captures the moments and allows me to feel and be a part of all the chaotic activity.
It made me think about how fortunate we are today to have diversity in our neighborhoods and in schools. We really don't think about it until we are forced to; whether it is by coincidence or by intention. It made me sad to think about how we concentrate on little bothers and miss out on the huge issues like the ones in the novel, including racial discrimination and the struggles between justice and the law.
The way Paton has formatted his text gives a stronger feel to it. It's excellent how he puts a great deal of emotion and detail throughout the entire novel. Some examples of this are when he writes about the great valley of the Umkomaas. He describes it by saying, "the soil is sick, almost beyond healing." It gives you a clearer picture of how the soil really was. Another example is when John Kumalo speaks about raising the wages in the mines. Paton wrote, "The crowd stirs as though a great wind were blowing through it. Here is the moment, John Kumalo, for the great voice to reach even to the gates of Heaven." He states the point but adds a little kick to it and makes the statement more understandable. By putting emotions and details into his novel it drew me more into it.
The intensity in the events was so great that it took me to places I've never been before. Like whenever Paton raised the intensity, it felt like I was right there with his characters. Almost like I was Mr. Kumalo going through all of those troubles. It was very powerful to me. My mind has opened up to new ideas that I would've never thought of before. Such as maybe white people weren't always racist against blacks. That blacks and whites sat in the same churches. Also that by one man's doing, a whole world can change. Like when Jarvis helped out Kumalo's land, by giving those supplies that were desperately needed.
I would definitely recommend this book to whoever likes intensity and purity in a novel.
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on October 25, 2003
As a seminarian, let me first say this: "Cry, The Beloved Country" taught me more about being a true, compassionate Christian minister then from all I've learned in my short time in seminary. How can I make such a statement? Because the author, Alan Paton, does more to illustrate the power and truth of Christian charity than the best Sunday sermon could ever hope to achieve.
Like all truly great literary works, this book works on multiple levels, the highest being theological. One could write a doctoral dissertation on the Christian theology which pervades every single page of this novel. And yet there is very little preaching, and only a tiny handful of Bible quotations. We are not being talked down too, we are not being lectured; rather, we are being invited into a world where the best virtues are illustrated, not commanded.
Those looking for a political treatise on the evils of apartheid will be sadly disappointed, as this book was written before those laws were put in place. (In fact, the word "apartheid" never appears once in the story.) However, one can easily see the evil seeds being sown that will bear a bitter harvest in years to come.
There are three main characters in this story: the old Zulu Anglican pastor Stephen Kumalo, the wealthy white farmer James Jarvis and the country of South Africa as it was in the early to mid 1940's. The way in which these three characters interact with each other is truly remarkable, and sometimes quite surprising. I could say much more about the plot and characters, but it will be much more fun for the reader to discover these things on his own. It is well worth the effort.
As I write this review, the book is the current selection of "Oprah's Book Club." While I've always taken that label as a warning to avoid a work of fiction, this time it proved to be an invaluable guide to a book I would have otherwise overlooked. The book club's new emphasis on "the classics" is an excellent idea. The first two choices of "East of Eden" and "Cry, the Beloved Country" are outstanding selections. Much credit goes to Oprah Winfrey for steering us out of the gutter of contemporary fiction, and helping us to enjoy the rich, powerful treasures from our recent past. You go, girl.
I read a tremendous amount of books, more so than anyone else I know. So you can truly appreciate how significant it is when I say "Cry, The Beloved Country" is one of the top ten best English language novels I've ever read. Very highly recommended.
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on October 5, 2003
Cry, the Beloved Country is a very moving novel about a black man's country under white man's law. Anyone who is interested in race relations, history, or the African language will enjoy this book like I did. This is an insightful book in which I learned a lot about South Africa. I learned that Johannesburg was the center of the gold mine industry. Many people left their small tribal villages to work there in 1946 which is the year this novel is set in.
The basic premise of Cry, The Beloved Country is about a young black man who is accused of and found guilty of murdering a white man. The author does a great job of making the reader care about both the victim and the accused.
The author Alan Paton does a great job of describing the character of the victim Arthur Jarvis as a very caring person who was well respected by people of all races. Arthur Jarvis was concerned with the social problems facing South Africa in 1946 like racial crime, the lack of education of African youth, and the conditions of the gold mines, and the welfare of the workers who labored there.
Alan Paton does an equally excellent job describing the accused person. Absalom Kumalo is the son of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo who goes in search for his son in the first section of the book. The cause of Absalom's crime according to the author is a breakdown of tribal values and family bonds like working together to achieve a common goal and a sense of belonging to a group. The Western emphasis on focusing on the individual influenced the way of thinking in South Africa that led to this breakdown.
I really enjoyed how the fathers of both sons became friends in this book. The white father James Jarvis actually helped Stephen Kumalo The elder Jarvis supplied Stephen Kumalo with milk to nourish the sick children of his village. Jarvis also provided Stephen Kumalo with a person to teach his people how to farm to grow more food.
I appreciated the list of words at the end of the book, because some of the African words were hard to pronounce. I love finding out the meaning of new words even if they are in a foreign languages. Cry, the Beloved Country is a beautifully written book about South Africa with strong themes and memorable characters. I loved this book.
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on October 1, 2003
"Cry The Beloved Country" is a moving story of the affect of racism on families under colonialism out of which apartheid developed, which system later legalised racism. S.A.faces major problems to-day, the Aids crisis and a poor economy both of which can be directly traced to apartheid which broke down black family life,referred to by Paton in the introduction in articles he wrote stating," the underlying causes of African crime ... the disintegration of tribal life and traditional family bonds under the impact of Western economy and culture." This break down seen in the way black workers were treated, described by Paton.Big corporations such as the mines, built houses for white workers for wives and families; black workers were housed in single accommodation in compounds, only visiting their wives once a year! Likewise with domestic workers who supplied cheap labour but not permitted to having spouses living with them in backyard rooms in the suburbs. Prostitution was rife and likely Aids began spreading in the early 1980's in S.A. The apartheid government spent 6 times more on a white child's education than a black child, the policy was to keep black people as a serving class. This has caused an uneducated and untrained workforce which contributes to the poor economy and poverty leading to crime. The cycle must be broken. Understanding the cause of these problems will encourage foreign investment to provide jobs to end the poverty. Perhaps someone reading "Cry The Beloved Country" will be encouraged to invest in South Africa.
I applaud Oprah Winfrey for choosing this story for her Book Club choice, bringing attention to the hardships black people suffered and yet they always expressed joy and hope, demonstrated by their great leader, Nelson Mandela, who set the example of reconciliation rather than retaliation. An example world leaders, particularly in the Middle East, would do well to follow. Paton writes beautifully, describing the people and the countryside.
Elaine Bunbury.
"What Hope Have You!" a story about the affects of colonialism and apartheid upon three families of different races in South Africa, over 100 years and 4 generations.
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