Author: Alan Paton
Length: 316 pages
Synopsis: Cry, the Beloved Country is the story of Stephen Kumalo, a Zulu pastor for the Anglican church in the village of Ndotsheni in South Africa. Kumalo lives a simple, servant-hearted existence until news reaches him that his sister, who lives in Johannesburg, is sick and that he must come to her. Upon reaching Johannesburg, Kumalo learns what has happened to his sister, his brother, and his son, who has been long absent from his village home. Absalom, Kumalo’s son, has been apprehended as a murderer, and before Kumalo returns home, he will meet his future daughter-in-law, pregnant with his first grandchild; witness his son’s conviction of murder; argue with his brother; and lose his sister to the life of the corrupted city, perhaps forever. In Paton’s own words: “No second Johannesburg is needed upon the earth. One is enough” (205). Ultimately, some good comes to the life of Ndotsheni as a result of the heartbreaking circumstances of Kumalo’s familial problems, and according to Kumalo’s judgment, these good things are certainly from the hand of God. This story is about much more than the problematic race relations of a country torn by racial strife; it is a beautiful song of hope that God can redeem any circumstance for the ultimate good of His people.
My Thoughts: Oh, this is a lovely, hopeful book. I really had no idea what to expect when I began reading it. I have had an interest in world history since I taught it for several years when I first began my teaching career, so I have a nodding acquaintance with South African history. However, I am by no means an expert, but this did not hinder my understanding of the story. To me, this is mainly a story about family love, parenthood, and hope in the face of tragedy. The way in which this novel is written reminds me of a movie script. I am eager now to watch the movie since I think this is a story that surely must have translated well to that medium. Reading Paton’s description of the South African veld reignites a dormant passion in my heart to see this land for myself. I was reminded over and over again, too, of Wendell Berry’s works (see my reviews here and here) because of the idea that “the tribe was broken, and would be mended no more” (120) that occurs repeatedly in this novel. In the end, though, it is only through events that even a skeptical Bishop must admit are Providential that Kumalo is able to come to this truth that provides a perfect denouement to this story:
Why was it given to one man to have his pain transmuted into gladness? Why was it given to one man to have such an awareness of God? And might not another, having no such awareness, live with pain that never ended? Why was there a compulsion upon him to pray for the restoration of Ndotsheni, and why was there a white man there on the tops, to do in this valley what no other could have done? And why of all men, the father of the man who had been murdered by his son? And might not another feel also a compulsion, and pray night and day without ceasing, for the restoration of some other valley that would never be restored?
But his mind would contain it no longer. It was not for man’s knowing. He put it from his mind, for it was a secret. (309)
I am always looking for encouragement and hope on this journey (hence the name of my blog), and this beautiful story by Alan Paton provides just that.