BOOK REVIEW: CRY THE BELOVED COUNTRY

When Pastor Stephen Kumalo receives a letter from Reverend Msimangu in Johannesburg, he sets out to the big city to save his sister, Getrude, who is ill. Kumalo’s son, Absalom, went to the city to look for his aunt not to be  seen or heard of again.

On arrival, the cold streets of Johannesburg greet Pastor Kumalo. They are full of sin and moral dirt; brought by the white man. Pastor Kumalo learns that his brother John has transitioned from a carpenter to a politician. His sister has also been sent to jail for making liquor. She also works as a prostitute. Taking in the murk of these streets is horrifying to an ‘innocent’ Pastor Kumalo.

In the company of a good hearted friend, Pastor Kumalo sweeps clean the city and it’s slums in search of his relatives. Will he find them? In what conditions?

Through the friend’s eye, Paton lays bare the city with all its dirt, corruption and illness.

Words are powerful. They can break you and piece you all up together again. That’s what Allan Paton does to you in this book.

Paton writes tersely because, I think, he could not afford to waste words. But the effect of the words he uses and the dialogue is unforgettable. It is one that I crave to learn.

This is the kind of book you will read slowly because it will weigh you down emotionally, and you’ll think about the words therein, and man’s injustice towards fellow man, and the kindness of others.

“But there is only one thing that has power completely, and this is love. Because when a man loves, he seeks no power, and therefore he has power.”

On the surface, this text could be on the pre-apartheid racially segregated South Africa but to me, it read much more into the depths of the resilience of human souls. It is about despair and hope, heartbreak and forgiveness; it is about grief and faith.

Can love, compassion, forgiveness, humility make up for social and political injustice?

Just how much are the characters to lose to change with the world?

This is a novel set in 1948–, but the issues addressed are timeless and they’ll remind you to  ‘cry for thy beloved country’.

“I have never thought that a Christian would be free of suffering, umfundisi. For our Lord suffered. And I come to believe that he suffered, not to save us from suffering, but to teach us how to bear suffering. For he knew that there is no life without suffering.”

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.”

 “I see only one hope for our country, and that is when white men and black men, desiring neither power nor money, but desiring only the good for their country, come together to work for it.”


I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find we are turned to hating.”

 “There is not much talking now. A silence falls upon them all. This is no time to talk of hedges and fields, or the beauties of any country. Sadness and fear and hate, how they well up in the heart and mind, whenever one opens pages of these messengers of doom. Cry for the broken tribe, for the law and the custom that is gone. Aye, and cry aloud for the man who is dead, for the woman and children bereaved. Cry, the beloved country, these things are not yet at an end. The sun pours down on the earth, on the lovely land that man cannot enjoy. He knows only the fear of his heart.”

 These words, may you remember them too!

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