Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is one of my all time favorite books. I try to read it at least once every decade. Told in simple, but beautiful language, it is the story of an elderly minister, Stephen Komolo, as he goes to Johannesburg, South Africa, to find his younger sister and his son. Patton captures the clash of civilizations as the need for work removes young people from their traditional tribal areas and culture. Workers in the mines live in compounds for single men and are not allowed to bring their families, so the tribal areas are left with the the elderly, young women and the very young. Agricultural practices and drought have ruined the land that was once so fertile and the native population lives in poverty.
As Stephen Komolo goes to Johannesburg, he is faced with the degradation, poverty and crime that haunts the parts of town set aside for the natives. There is no structure to their lives in the absence of the tribes which once gave them a sense of belonging and tribal values. As he searches for his son, several people, white and native, help him find his son and then face the tragedy of his young life. There are white people who recognize that the problems of equality for the natives have to be addressed and are working to bring some justice before it is too late. When I first read the book, written in 1944, the problems of apartheid were beginning to be discussed in the news and the international community was applying pressure to South Africa to recognize the rights of Non-Europeans. Over time, incredible progress has been made, but the book is still relevant.
There are some beautiful passages in the book that have haunted me. The language is poetic and evokes a land in turmoil but at the same time a land that teems with possibility. I have read several memorable books about Africa and I love the cadence of the language and the descriptive phrases.
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