Cry, The Beloved Country – Alan Paton
This was one of those books that when I’d finished, I wondered where it had been all my adult reading life. (Or prehaps where I’d been, or perhaps why hadn’t my High School English teacher set this as a required text?) I’d borrowed this book from a friend, but it one I definitely want on our shelves.
Published in 1948 about aparteid South Africa. This is a moving story about a black pastor Kumalo who leaves his village for Johannesburg to find his son who had gone away to work, but had stopped writing home. As he follows his son’s trail to find his whereabouts, the news is increasingly grim.
The novel also tells the story of a white farmer whose farm is near the same village. His son, an engineer in Johannesburg was murdered by a young black man who’d broken into his house. The murdered man Arthur Jarvis was an advocate for black people.
I found it an intelligent and unbiased look at the injustices of the time. So very beautifully written in the Zulu oral tradition, the story and the characters engaged me and the issues were addressed with sensitivity and understanding. The central themes are the land, justice and fear.
A paragraph I’ll take away with me and have been giving a lot of thought to, comes from a document the murdered man had been working on at the time of his murder. It was found among his papers by his father. He is writing here about the problem of the breakdown of the family and the tribe because of mine workers being away from the villages and their wives and children…
What we did when we came to South Africa was permissible. ….
It was permissible when we discovered gold to bring labour to the mines. It was permissible to build compounds and to keep women and children away from the towns. It was permissible as an experiment, in the light of what we knew. But in the light of what we know now, with certain exceptions, it is no longer permissible. It is not permissible for us to go on destroying family life when we know that we are destroying it. It is permissible to develop any resources if the labour is forthcoming. But it is not permissible to develop any resources if they can be developed only at the cost of the labour. It is not permissible to mine any land, if such mining and manufacture and cultivation depend for their success on a policy of keeping labour poor. It is not permissible to add to one’s possessions if these things can only be done at the cost of other men. Such development has only one true name, and that is exploitation. It might have been permissible…before we became aware of it’s cost…. But now that the cost is known, it is no longer permissible.
I can’t stop thinking about that sentence above which I’ve highlighted.
Loved, loved, loved this book.l loved how it told a great story that made me cry, examined real issues which despite being based around the events in SA in the 40’s are just as relevant today (in fact are universally relevant), and it made me think!