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Thursday, March 03, 2005

cover of Cry, the Beloved Country

The moving story of a rural Zulu priest who leaves his home in the country of South Africa to travel to Johannesburg, to track down a sister who has gotten into trouble in the city and wants to come home. He also hopes to find his son, Absalom, whom he has not heard from in some time. Unfortunately, shortly after he arrives a white man-- one who is sympathetic to and outspoken on behalf of the African people-- is murdered by a black man who broke into his home to rob him. When Kumalo first hears of the murder, he instinctively-- and rightly-- fears that his son may be the murderer, despite the reassurances of the man who is helping him in his search.

This is a moving story, depicting the experiences of some of the poorest people in the cities of South Africa. The relationship between Kumalo and his son is somewhat restored at the end, when Absalom is abandoned by his friends and left to take the punishment for the murder all alone. But I think the most moving part of the story is the unlikely relationship that develops between the two fathers-- Kumalo, the father of the murderer, and the white landowner Jarvis, who comes from the same region where Kumalo lives, the father of the man who was murdered. This horrible event creates a bond for them, and when Kumalo returns home, this develops into a friendship with the murdered man's son; and then landowner decides to help the community, providing milk for the sick children, and bringing in experts to teach them how to manage the land better.

One of the saddest aspects of this story is Kumalo's helplessness and sometimes even hopelessness for his people. He sees the darkness of the city and the evil there, but at the same time he knows the land is not doing so well in the country, and that the rural areas cannot support a larger population. Perhaps this is why the relationship between Kumalo and Jarvis is so moving: because it provides a note of hope and possibility.

Title:Cry, the Beloved Country
Author:Alan Paton
Date published:1948
Number of pages:283


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