Wednesday 23 January 2008

Book Review: Cry: the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

I picked this book up at a summer boot-market (Like an enormous outdoor flea-market but cheaper!) for about 30p to add to my stash for reading during winter when the markets are closed. I finally got down to the bottom of my bed-side pile in January and started to read this.

Set in South Africa just before the advent of apartheid, the book tells the story of a Zulu country parson who travels to Johannesburg to search for his son. We see a Johannesburg which is overcrowded and riddled with crime and poverty with relations between whites and blacks becoming more and more strained. The parson finds compassion in fellow priests, poor black people and whites working to help the “natives”. In the end his search leads him to his son who has impregnated a young girl and is wanted for the murder of a white man working for the rights of blacks. The murdered man is the only son of a white landowner from the town the parson hails from.

The book does try to show both sides of the story: the black population suffering from extreme poverty and the effects of the breakdown of their tribal systems, the white community living in fear of “native crime” - but also the arrogance and greed of the English.

I found the most powerful theme in this book to be compassion, the scene between the pastor and the father of the murdered man brought tears to my eyes and I had to stop and put the book down.

Alan Paton once said that “I want to interpret South Africa honestly and without fear.” I think in this book he managed to do this in relation to a particular time in South Africa’s history. The novel ends on a note of hope and this is further made poignant by knowledge of the apartheid laws passed a few months after the book was published.

At times this book felt very slightly ponderous, but some very beautifully written parts like that below more than makes up for this:

"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 much 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."


  1. As Salaamu Alaikum Sis:

    My dear friend, Sis Saaleha in SA, loves this book. I sent her a link to this post.

    The book is still on my to-read shelf. I started it, but found it initially dry.

    Insha Allah I will go back to it. I rarely abandon a book.

  2. Walaikam-assalam Sis,
    thanks very much for the link, her site looks interesting. I found this a dry book to begin with too, and a very hard book to write about, I almost gave up and didn't bother.

    It might be a good book to go back to when you havent anything else around to read, once you get into it, it does grow on you.

  3. salaams sisters

    actually I loved Ah, but Your Land is Beautiful. still haven't read 'Cry...' sacrilege, i think, since it is considered a South African classic. We actually have a book award named after Alan Paton.

    BUt I'll get there. you see the problem is that there is such a lot of brilliant contemporary fiction out there that the classics are sometimes overlooked.

    Umm Saliha, jazakillah for the visit.

  4. Salaams Sisters:

    Ya Allah Saaleha: I knew it was some Alan Paton book you loved! Sorry (blush)

    Gheez, so "Cry" is a bit dry, too, lol!

    I guess it's a good price to pay for reading an important class work. Like I said, I rarely abandon a book.