In search of missing family members, Zulu priest Stephen Kumalo leaves his South African village to traverse the deep and perplexing city of Johannesburg in the 1940s. With his sister turned prostitute, his brother turned labor protestor and his son, Absalom, arrested for the murder of a white man, Kumalo must grapple with how to bring his family back from the brink of destruction as the racial tension throughout Johannesburg hampers his attempts to protect his family. With a deep yet gentle voice rounded out by his English accent, Michael York captures the tone and energy of this novel. His rhythmic narration proves hypnotizing. From the fierce love of Kumalo to the persuasive rhetoric of Kumalo’s brother and the solemn regret of Absalom, York injects soul into characters tempered by their socioeconomic status as black South Africans.
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.
How much can a man love his country? How much can he love his son? What is forgiveness? Redemption? Grace? “Cry, the Beloved Country” is all these things and more. Paton uses a third person narrative voice to tell the story of two men–Stephen Kumalo, a black priest (Book I.) and James Jarvis, a wealthy white landowner (Book II.). Paton gets inside the mind of each man, exposes human feelings with depth and restraint. Within the story of two families the larger story of South Africa emerges. Paton exposes the racism that created Apartheid. He details the loss of self sufficient farming compelling young people to go to the cities to earn a livelihood. He shows the impact on young blacks going to the city and losing their communal tribal life. He shows the generosity of Jarvis’ son who devoted his life to social justice and was killed in spite of his effort by a disenfranchised black youth–Stephen’s son.
Cry Beloved Country is a beautiful , lyrical book. Paton has an interesting writting style which adds to the poetry of the novel. It is a keeper and a treasure. It is a book that you will want to revisit often at least for awhile.
I highly recommend this book for everybody.