CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY by Alan Paton

Reviewed by Nordeen Morello, Book-‘Em

Cry, The Beloved Country(December 19, 2003) It should not require Oprah’s Book Club to bring readers to Alan Paton’s Cry, The Beloved Country. First published in 1948, its understated, elegant writing and heartfelt story have had a timeless appeal ever since.

The essential storyline revolves around the journey of Kumalo, a native Zulu and Anglican priest, to the city of Johannesburg as he searches to find his sister and his son who have separately settled there and not been heard from. Both Gertrude and son Absalom have not fared well in the city and will, ultimately, be lost to Kumalo. Paton explores the disintegration of tribal culture, the migration to, and ills of, urban life, and the fear-based divide between Blacks and Whites which all presage the eventual establishment of Apartheid in South Africa. Surprisingly, while poignant, Paton’s message is not a hopeless one.

Most notably, every member of the group loved reading this book, a first in Book-‘Em’s three and a half year existence! Specifically, we felt this was beautiful writing about a beautiful land. Paton’s intensity and passion for his subject speaks to the reader. In unspoken respect for and acknowledgement of this simple and somber work, our discussion was muted. We had all learned much about the history of South Africa and felt an awareness of the racial and cultural divide that no high school course had managed to instill. There were no heated discussions or burning questions.

Perhaps Cry, The Beloved Country best serves book groups as a venue to explore the question “What defines/makes a classic?” As a novel to be read, it has our unequivocal recommendation.

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