Cry, the Beloved Country (Review)

Labels: Great Works

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Cry, the Beloved Country
Alan Paton, 1948
320 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
December 2008

Who hasn't read this, years ago as a school assignment? Believe me, it's worth another read—in fact, I'd forgotten how much I loved this book.

Beloved Countrytells the story of Stephen Kumalo, a black minister in South Africa, who tries to save his sister from prostitution, his son from a murder charge, and his tribe from disintegration.

Rounding out the cast of characters is the father of the young man murdered by Kumalo's son Absalom. The father, a wealthy white land owner becomes convinced of the country's racial injustices and decides to take up the cause.

Thematically rich, the book focuses not only on political oppression, but also on tribal breakdown, moral decay as a result of urbanization, and the degradation of the land. Finally, from chapter 12 comes one of the most moving passages in all of fiction—a powerful lament and an invocation for justice:

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.

The book was banned in South Africa when first published in 1948, the year that Apartheid became law. Happily, the work attained critical success around the world and continues, to this day, to sell millions of copies: a constant witness to the horror of oppression everywhere—but at the same time a clarion for hope.

See our Reading Guide for Cry the Beloved Country.

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