It is in my ferocious appetite for stories documenting the perils of separating people from the notion of a nation that I am drawn to books addressing this displacement. It is also in my erratic instinct that I naively look up to a narrative built on objective reasoning championing a rather humanitarian argument. Predictably so, while browsing at a local bookstore, I arrived at Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton. I was familiar neither with the author nor with the book’s stature. Promising a profound insight into a nation’s consciousness streaming from the upheaval in its moral constitution, the book seemed to be a convincing fit. Little did I know that I was going into an ideal book with the wrong ideals. Unexpectedly, and to my benefit, Alan Paton’s classic jostled me to rethink the nature of stance a book can choose while choosing to speak truth to its readers. Cry, The Beloved Country book review, therefore, finds its voice from a place and perspective primitive to reason and native to the human condition.
Cry, The Beloved Country is a compelling account of lives defined by racial segregation. Set in 1948, the book is a precursor to Apartheid, and thus, attempts to lay bare inner vulnerability of characters haplessly reciprocating racial bias with violence, suffering, and apathy. A few good men, however, carry courage and compassion to go on about their daily lives amidst prevalent misery. Stephen Kumalo, a black Anglican priest from the indigenous Zulu tribe is one such man. Upon receiving news about his sister’s sickness, Stephen is compelled to travel to Johannesburg. The book follows his journey witnessing ordeals he goes through in attending to a fallen sister, imprisoned son, and politically corrupted brother. Accused of murder, Stephen’s son is on a trial that has shifted nation’s attention to the burning issue of native crime. While his bloodline is entrenched in poverty, crime, and disgrace, it is Stephen whose grief epitomizes the higher theme of the book—absolute justice. Cry, The Beloved Country observes the inner turmoil of a man coping up with his son’s imminent death while bearing the cross of shame on his chest silently. The novel ends with Stephen mounting the hills of Ndotsheni to mourn the death of a loved one.
Cry, The Beloved Country will move you, melt you, and make you feel for Kumalo. Lyrical writing, sensitive in just the right amount, perspectives, and places, calls for all the praise it has come to collect in more than seven decades. The book is an astute reflection of a mind consumed with anxiety, sorrow, and hope radiating from the wounds of racial segregation. The profound portrayal of characters placed in the geopolitical context of institutionalization springing from Apartheid offers a stark contrast in the voices speaking the same truth on different merits. Well-paced and decorated with linguistic imprints of native South Africa, the novel is both tactical and creative in placing its central inquiry. Moreover, to further the charm of the book, I must share one peculiarity that baffled me throughout. For a mind hungry for passages challenging Apartheid with rational, sensible arguments; for passionate quotes cited from the victim’s lifetime work; for courtroom conversations distilling truth from perceptions in the vacuum of sociopolitical circumstances, Alan Paton chooses to bestow upon not more than ten pages in a 300 plus page book. The vocal, intellectual, objective argument of Jarvis Jr. is restricted to create an after-effect at most, whereas Kumalo’s grief—mute and internal—echoes loudly throughout. The author couldn’t be more delicate or precise in staging this relativity right in front of the reader to see, stare, and submerge into. One might wonder, why Jarvis Sr. is more affected by the discovery of his son’s radical ideas than by the news of his death, or, why, a book built on Apartheid chooses to speak more about the loss than the reasons of it.
This intentional placement of human suffering above and beyond a practical-need-for-a-practical-argument provides a pathway to understanding how human intellect springs from humanitarian conflicts. Cry, the Beloved Country connects the dots of a conflict and chooses to reflect on how truth, as slow as it might, evolves from an emotion into an ideology. Alan Paton, through this book, institutes human dignity as the tallest and most expensive argument against Apartheid, thereby, discarding any other rational, legal merit needed to tell right from wrong. Cry, the Beloved Country book review, apparently, turned out to be a classic case of a heart developing the mind.
All this while lost in reasoning with the reason, my heart found truth in the heart of a truth.