“I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find that we are turned to hating”.
What a powerful title! What a powerful book!
Cry, the Beloved Country is a story about South Africa of the 1940s. This is a story about two fathers, one white, one black and their sons.
Absolom Kumalo leaves the village of Ndotshen to go to the big city, Johannesburg, but he falls in with a bad crowd and is involved in a robbery; his father, a Zulu pastor, Stephen Kumalo goes in search of his missing son but discovers that he’s unintentionally shot a man, an idealistic white, who is the son of Kumalo’s neighbour.
In a few pages, Paton is capable to touch on almost every trouble in post-colonial South Africa: racism, classism, elitism, segregation… Paton doesn't blame white people or black people; every individual is an example of multiple faults. There is no evil or good part, so I found myself understanding and empathizing with characters on both side. This pre-apartheid South Africa system, where the racial injustice is the way a new country is made up, is bound to increase human suffering. But it’s not all sad; I found a hopeful and inspiring message at the end.
It is stylistically unusual: breath taking prose; dialogues without quotation marks (so you have to pay attention to every sentence); lyrical phrasing like this: “Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply”.
The cover shows a detail from 'Three Boys' by Marianne Podlashuc (photo UCA studio)