Cry, The Beloved Country

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Cry, the Beloved Country is a beautifully told and profoundly compassionate story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son Absalom, set in the troubled and changing South Africa of the 1940s.

The book is written with such keen empathy and understanding that to read it is to share fully in the gravity of the characters' situations. It both touches your heart deeply and inspires a renewed faith in the dignity of mankind. Cry, the Beloved Country is a classic tale, ...

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Cry, the Beloved Country

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Cry, the Beloved Country is a beautifully told and profoundly compassionate story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son Absalom, set in the troubled and changing South Africa of the 1940s.

The book is written with such keen empathy and understanding that to read it is to share fully in the gravity of the characters' situations. It both touches your heart deeply and inspires a renewed faith in the dignity of mankind. Cry, the Beloved Country is a classic tale, passionately African, timeless and universal, and beyond all, selfless.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684818948
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 12/1/1995
  • Pages: 320
  • Age range: 15 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: 860L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan Paton
South African author and activist Alan Paton once reflected, "Who knows why we live, and struggle, and die? Wise men write many books, in words too hard to understand. But this, the purpose of our lives, the end of all our struggle, is beyond all human wisdom." However, the wisdom of his beloved novel Cry, the Beloved Country made his one of South Africa's most resounding voices.


Alan Paton, a native son of South Africa, was born in Pietermaritzburg, in the province of Natal, in 1903. While his mother was a third-generation South African, his father was a Scots Presbyterian who arrived in South Africa just before the Boer War.

Alan Paton attended college in Pietermaritzburg, where he studied science and wrote poetry in his off-hours. After graduating, he wrote two novels and then promptly destroyed them. He devoted himself to writing poetry once again, and later, in his middle years, he wrote serious essays for liberal South African magazines, much the same way his character, Arthur Jarvis, does in Cry, the Beloved Country.

Paton's initial career was spent teaching in schools for the sons of rich white South Africans, But at 30, when he was teaching in Pietermaritzburg, he suffered a severe attack of enteric fever, and in the time he had to reflect upon his life, he decided that he did not want to spend his life teaching the sons of the rich.

Paton was a great admirer of Hofmeyr, a man who dared to tell his fellow Afrikaners that they must give up "thinking with the blood," and "maintain the essential value of human personality as something independent of race or color." Paton wrote to Hofmeyr and asked him for a job. To his surprise, he was offered a job as principal of Diepkloof Reformatory, a huge prison school for delinquent black boys, on the edge of Johannesburg. It was a penitentiary, with barbed wire and barred cells, and under Hofmeyr's inspiring leadership, Paton transformed it. Geraniums replaced the barbed wire, the bars were torn down, and soon the feeling in the place changed.

He worked at Diepkloof for ten years, and though it was certainly a fertile period, at the end of it Paton felt so strongly that he needed a change, that he sold his life insurance policies to finance a prison-study trip that took him to Scandinavia, England, and the United States. It was during this time that he unexpectedly wrote his first published novel, Cry, the Beloved Country. It was in Norway that he began it, after a friendly stranger had taken him to see the rose window in the cathedral of Trondheim by torchlight. Paton, no doubt inspired, sat down in his hotel room and wrote the whole first chapter. He had no idea what the rest of the story would be, but it formed itself while he traveled. Parts were written in Stockholm, Trondheim, Oslo, London, and the United States. It was finished in San Francisco. Cry, the Beloved Country was first published in 1948 by Charles Scribner's Sons. It stands as the single most important novel in South African literature.

Alan Paton died in 1988 in South Africa.

Author biography courtesy of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Good To Know

After studies at the University of Natal, Paton taught at the Ixopo High School for White Students and then at a high school in Pietermaritzburg.

Cry, the Beloved Country was adapted into a play in 1949, entitled Lost in the Stars, featuring songs by composer Kurt Weill. In 1995, a feature film version was released, starring James Earl Jones as Kumalo.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Alan Stewart Patton
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 11, 1903
    2. Place of Birth:
      Pietermaritzburg, Natal, South Africa
    1. Date of Death:
      April 12, 1988
    2. Place of Death:
      Durban, Natal, South Africa

First Chapter

Chapter 1

There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them, to Carisbrooke; and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa. About you there is grass and bracken and you may hear the forlorn crying of the titihoya, one of the birds of the veld. Below you is the valley of the Umzimkulu, on its journey from the Drakensberg to the sea; and beyond and behind the river, great hill after great hill; and beyond and behind them, the mountains of Ingeli and East Griqualand.

The grass is rich and matted, you cannot see the soil. It holds the rain and the mist, and they seep into the ground, feeding the streams in every kloof. It is well-tended, and not too many cattle feed upon it; not too many fires burn it, laying bare the soil. Stand unshod upon it, for the ground is holy, being even as it came from the Creator. Keep it, guard it, care for it, for it keeps men, guards men, cares for men. Destroy it and man is destroyed.

Where you stand the grass is rich and matted, you cannot see the soil. But the rich green hills break down. They fall to the valley below, and falling, change their nature. For they grow red and bare; they cannot hold the rain and mist, and the streams are dry in the kloofs. Too many cattle feed upon the grass, and too many fires have burned it. Stand shod upon it, for it is coarse and sharp, and the stones cut under the feet. It is not kept, or guarded, or cared for, it no longer keeps men, guards men, cares for men. The titihoya does not cry here anymore.

The great red hills stand desolate, and the earth has torn away like flesh. The lightning flashes over them, the clouds pour down upon them, the dead streams come to life, full of the red blood of the earth. Down in the valleys women scratch the soil that is left, and the maize hardly reaches the height of a man. They are valleys of old men and old women, of mothers and children. The men are away, the young men and the girls are away. The soil cannot keep them any more.

Copyright © 1948 by Alan Paton

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Reading Group Guide

1. How is Cry, the Beloved Country part story, part prophecy, and part psalm? How does the story resemble the biblical parable of the prodigal son? How does it mirror another biblical parable, Absalom? What is the significance of Kumalo's son being named Absalom? Where else does the Bible inform the story?

2. There are many paradoxes in this novel: a priest's son commits murder; a white man who fights for the dignity of South African blacks is senselessly murdered; the father of the murdered son helps the father of the son who murdered to keep a disintegrating native tribe together. How do you reconcile these paradoxes? How do they contribute to the richness of the story? Why might Paton have made this choice?

3. Msimangu says, "I see only one hope for our country, and that is when white men and black men, desiring neither power or money, but desiring only the good of their country, come together to work for it." The book was written in 1948. Some forty-odd years later, has Msimangu's prophecy come to pass? If so, in what ways? If not, why?

4. How does apartheid manifest itself in Cry, the Beloved Country? Describe or characterize the separate worlds inhabited by blacks and whites. Where do black and white lives touch?

5. Jarvis is unable to physically comfort Kumalo. Paton writes, "And because he spoke with compassion, the old man wept, and Jarvis sat embarrassed on his horse. Indeed he might have come down from it, but such a thing is not lightly done." But yet, when the people of Ndotsheni are in grave trouble, Jarvis provides milk and irrigation vital to their survival, and later a new church. Why is he capable of one and not the other? Exactly what is itthat is not lightly done? How and why does such duality exist? What do you feel about such codes of behavior?

6. Cry, the Beloved Country is, in part, a story about those who stayed and those who left. What happens to the people who stayed in the tribal villages? What happens to those who left and went to Johannesburg? What is Paton's point of view of this mass migration? Does he feel it was necessary? Inevitable? What is your opinion?

7. Arthur Jarvis says "It was permissible to allow the destruction of a tribal system that impeded the growth of the country. It was permissible to believe that its destruction was inevitable. But it is not permissible to watch its destruction, and to replace it with nothing, or by so little, that a whole people deteriorates, physically and morally." What events in the novel illustrate the breakup of the tribal system? How is the tribal system destroyed? What is done to replace it?

8. An unidentified white person in the novel offers, "Which do we suffer, a law-abiding, industrious and purposeful native people, or a lawless, idle and purposeless people? The truth is, that we do not know, for we fear them both." What is it that the white man fears in both instances? Which does the white man suffer in this novel? What might be Paton's point of view? What is your opinion and why?

9. Throughout the story, Kumalo experiences the absence of God and momentary losses of faith. He suffers through periods where it feels as if God has deserted him. What other characters experience the absence of God? Does Kumalo ever experience the presence of God? If so, when? Is God basically absent or present in Paton's novel? If so, in what way does God manifest Himself?

10. Describe the role of faith in the novel. How does it serve Kumalo and Msimangu, the people of Ndotsheni? Was it faith that inspired Arthur Jarvis, and hence his father? What about Absalom? Is there any indication that faith impedes or injures any of the characters?

11. There is much mention of secrets in this novel, secrets with no answers. Father Vincent tells Kumalo, "Yes, I said pray and rest. Even if it is only words that you pray, and even if your resting is only a lying on the bed. And do not pray for yourself, and do not pray to understand the ways of God. For they are a secret. Who knows what life is, for life is a secret." How does this notion of secret permeate the novel? What does it give the novel? What effect do Father Vincent's words have on Kumalo? How do they affect you?

12. Although Kumalo is a priest and often has the highest intentions, he sometimes does things which are contrary. For example, when he visits his son's wife-to-be, in his efforts to hurt her, he asks if she would take him if he desired her. Where else do we see Kumalo falter? How do you reconcile these two sides of Kumalo? How do you relate to him? Do any of the other characters falter? If so, who? What is it that makes Paton's characters so realistic?

13. Kumalo and the demonstrator have very different opinions about the white man. Kumalo says, "Where would we be without the white man's milk? Where would we be without all that this white man has done for us? Where would you be also? Would you be working for him here?" And the demonstrator answers, "It was the white man who gave us so little land, it was the white man who took us away from the land to go to work. And we were ignorant also. It is all these things together that have made this valley desolate. Therefore, what this good white man does is only repayment." How do Kumalo and the demonstrator reconcile their different points of view? How might the other characters in the book feel? What is your point of view?

14. The last few sentences Arthur Jarvis wrote before his death are: "The truth is that our civilization is not Christian; it is a tragic compound of great ideal and fearful practice, of high assurance and desperate anxiety, of loving charity and fearful clutching of possessions." Where in this novel do we see a split between high ideals and narrow self-interest? Do the characters embody one or the other, or are they morally mixed? Do you think what Jarvis feels applies to present-day South Africa? If so, how? If not, how have things changed?

15. What is Paton's vision of the world? Does he express the view that human beings are immutable or capable of transformation? Are we left with any kind of message, any vision for mankind? If so, what is it?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 127 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 127 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 24, 2011

    Painful and Powerful

    This strange, lyrical novel is easily the most agonizing painful books I've ever read. Murder is perhaps the most overdone topic in the history of literature, but if all were done like this, we couldn't bear to read many. Published months before white supremacists created the legal system of apartheid (and set two years earlier, in the fall of 1946), the novel follows the fathers of an accidental killer and his unintended victim, starting before the murder and ending only after we get a sense of its ripple effects through the lives of whites and blacks as they try to make sense of the utterly pointless tragedy and the social system that led to it. It's a novel that does little to try to flashily seduce the reader. It starts out with a description of a rural valley in South Africa, a description that is repeated later with some key differences. Then it moves dialogue that almost sounds off-key: there are no quotation marks, only dashes, to indicate speakers and the characters have an odd repetitious quality to their speech that puzzles at first. At the risk of only a little hyperbole, it sounds like this: -- The sky is blue. -- You say the sky is blue. His eyes flickered upward. -- I say the sky is blue. -- I understand. The man nodded. -- You understand. My initial reaction to this was, "Oh man, did I pay for this?" But then as the matters grow more serious, I learned to appreciate that such dialogue has a somber rhythm, if not beauty, to it. It is not so much repetition as characters recognizing each other's humanity. And that is what makes this book so painful. Paton at every key moment goes for the perfectly understated emotion. The father of the murder victim does nothing histrionic -- there's simply this powerful scene in which he looks around his son's library, which is filled with passionate political books that mean nothing to him. He's forced to simultaneously confront the gulf that had arisen between himself and his son -- this sense that his own offspring is a mystery -- and also the grievous sense of loss in the quiet room (with the blood stain down the hallway). Scenes like this hurt. Toward the end, there's a stretch of maybe thirty or forty pages in which the characters briefly become symbols and Paton seems to be letting whites off easy in their greater complicity. But Paton himself seems aware of this, as he has a character that I was starting to find unrealistic deny that he is a saint and another character points out how much of the blame rests with the sins against humanity of the whites. What to make of these possible missteps by Paton and his own attempt to ameliorate them become a moot point by the powerful final scene. It's simply a man watching the sunrise. Yet, because of what it means when the sun rises above the horizon, I think that scene will stay with me far longer than the last couple pages of any other novel I've ever read. I am, I'm sure, reading this at a time when I'm particularly susceptible to its sentiments. After months of worrying about whether my infant son, who has just seemed like a bundle of vulnerability, I am watching him grow past the initial troubles that can beset a baby. He is starting to show a personality and I can begin to wonder what the future will hold in store for him. And this novel combines what are probably the two worst fates your child could experience: to murder or to be murdered. To me this is much more of a horror novel than some junk abou

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 2, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Slow moving, but interesting topic

    I had a hard time deciding between three and four stars for this book. It is a classic and deals with a very difficult subject, but the story-line seems scattered at times. Paton was trying to communicate the pain, fear, and anger that punctuated life in South Africa in the 1940s. This sociological topic is difficult for young people to grasp.well, it's difficult for not-so-young people to grasp if they have never experienced it. Thus, I found the book's topic interesting and learned a lot. The main character was complex and well-rounded. The raw emotion was captured. Because of this, I give the book four stars. However, a word of caution: when you read it, be prepared to accept the slow-moving, disconnected story line and just enjoy the characters and the sociological portrayal.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2013

    Don't listen to the dim witts

    This book is great, and if you rated the book one star on the complaint that the first chapter is about grass, you are idiotic. The meaning of the first chapter is much greater than just grass, and if you were reading the book and it was at your reading level, you would understand! Everyone should read this book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 30, 2009

    It was as good if not better than the first reading.

    I read an earlier edition many years ago and loved it. Last year, I visited South Africa for the first time and then this year ran into a long time colleague who has devoted his last professional years in building bridges between US and South Africa higher educational institutions. So, I picked up the latest edition of Cry, The Beloved Country. Somehow, I got more out of it this time. Maybe, it's because I can imagine the narrative better, having been to South Africa and relate better to the story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 3, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    With Nelson Mandela gone, this is a must-read for us all now.

    This book is a heartacher. It was written in 1948, but its topic is still happening now both in South Africa and the U.S. Fathers lose their sons and find compassion, forgiveness and acceptence in the midst of terrible tragedy. This is not light reading by any means - I was sobbing afterwards and stunned for days even though I had read it 45 years ago. It didn't affect me then like it has now since the loss of Nelson Mandela. I didn't even know who he was back then.
    Please read it. It's a deeply moving classic with a timeless story.

    Mandela's family has asked us to hold onto one word in his memory -- Forgiveness.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2013

    Highly recommended

    Still important. Still moving.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2013

    Good book!

    I have to read this in lit and so far its great!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2013

    I chose ¿Cry, The Beloved Country¿ for review.  Alan Paton, a n

    I chose “Cry, The Beloved Country” for review.  Alan Paton, a native of South Africa, illustrates his outcry for the injustices in 1946 South Africa as well as his yearning for justice in this novel.  The book follows a pastor from the small town of Ixopo.  Reverend Steven Kumalo receives a letter about his sister’s well-being and embarks on a journey to find her.  A majority of the story takes place in Pietermaritzburg, the capital of KwaZuluNatal.  In his search for his sister, Gertrude, Kumalo also embarks on a journey for his son Absalom.  The exposition to the each encounter is lengthy and I would like to avoid a summary of the book and gear the review as an opinion. 
    Throughout his journey, Kumalo experiences the trials of his people from his poor small town to the industrial revolutionized capital.  “Cry, The Beloved Country” brings to life the struggle that still plagues South Africa, a land considered free due to the innovations and technology that have been brought from the Europeans.  However, the reader sees that as the book progresses, the initial facade of oppression is minute compared to the deeper message.  
    Although greeted with hospitality by a fellow layperson, Msimangu and Father Vincent, Kumalo is introduced to the cruel and subliminal oppression that Europeans have brought.  Kumalo sees his fellow tribesmen pushed to the outskirts of town, living in scraps(huts), held together by tape.  He witnesses the corruption through power to his people.  Along his journey, Kumalo learns that his sister, Gertrude, has become a prostitute, for the love of money, and although he tries to bring her to salvation; she cannot break her habits and abandons Kumalo with her newborn child.  To place a heavier burden on Kumalo, his son has been convicted of a murder, a crime committed out of fear and under the influence of his peers.
    To complicate the story more, Kumalo encounters his brother, John. Once a young man after the faith of God, much like Kumalo, John has been skewed in his mission to liberate their people.  John uses his commanding tone, unlike the humble Kumalo, to inspire their people almost to the point of revolution.  Here, the separation of paths is seen and a moral conflict of leadership is opened.  Kumalo wishes to lead his people to salvation through education with the coming change of industrial revolution; John wishing to stir the people to revolt against the oppression.  
    Kumalo, an old man living beyond his time, is forced to deal with the pain of changing times.  He sees and feels that with the coming of the new age also comes a a heavier burden of his people, a beautiful tribe, to acclimate and overcome the prejudices that were set on them by the Europeans.  Broken in age, but not in spirit, Kumalo is put to the ultimate test to live through his son's execution and raise Absalom's son and young wife. 
    I won't use the word captivating to describe this literature because I see it everywhere.  But I strongly recommend this book.  “Cry, The Beloved Country” has made me look deeper into the struggle of the African nation and the struggle of people as a whole to live in unison.  To see the corruption around us that is not so apparent but surrounds us everyday.  Truly gripping and I hope you get a chance to read it!

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  • Posted April 17, 2013



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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2012

    Cry, The Beloved Country

    An amazing novel about a black preist from the valley of Ndostheni who goes to Johannesburg to find his brother ,his sister and her child, and his only son. In Johannesburg he finds out what type of things happen there and he finds out what his family has done. In the novel the preist stephen kumalo is trying to fix the land and reunite the tribe of Ndostheni. I highly recommened this book to anyone who wants to hear a great story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2011

    Wonderful book/messed up tech issues

    Great story, but midway thru the whole has chunks of repeated text.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 20, 2011

    Highly Recommended

    Loved this book - very spiritual and timeless story. Good suggestion for a book club.

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  • Posted September 26, 2011

    Bed A Bbesutjvvvnly

    Et5 B. .gbb !llr

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 18, 2011

    ADD much?

    Had to read the book for school. I thought the storyline was ok but there were chapters that talkrd about grass and about the most random stuff that has no relation except that it in s. Africa and has no explanation. Also i hated how u never realized who was talking! They would be talking and wouldmt say who spoke first so most of the time you had to read a three page convo just to figure out who was speaking then you had to reread it all again, and they also said "he said" a lot without clarifying who 'he'is. And it also veered off a lot ad randomly switched to frst person in some an ok storyline but poorly written

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 31, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Renewed My Love for Reading

    I first read this book in high school and it renewed my love for reading. I felt like I was a part of the story and the characters' lives. It is a beautiful and emotional book.

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  • Posted April 13, 2010

    Insightful Read!

    There may be more recent books that cover the subject of the class distinctions in South Africa, but this book offers an insightful, first-hand look at apartheid from someone who was in a position to actually tell the rest of the world what it was like in South Africa during the 1940s. He doesn't just reflect on the subject; rather, he lets his readers participate through the written page as it is happening to his characters. The first 1/2 of the book may seem slow, yet, it is insightful. The last half is worth the wait with much to think and talk about! It was interesting yet distressing to see how good, really good people, could see the vicious cycle of inequality and injustice, yet not be able to change their society. One of his most valuable messages to me was "One person may not be able to change all of society, yet he can practice the values that he upholds and be a shining example to others who perhaps will see a better way of living there own lives.

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  • Posted February 1, 2010

    Worth the effort..

    I read this book as part of a book club. At first, I didn't enjoy it at all...the "unique" writing style threw me and really was a distraction rather than an enhancement to the story. However, once I got just a little into it, I realized that he, the author, was actually writing in the manner that the characters who live in South Africa would actually speak. The plot really opened my eyes to the social implications of many policies and traditions...and not just in South Africa but you could translate this into basically any country. You really get into the story and empathize with the characters.
    I'd DEFINITELY recommend this to anyone to read...most beautifully written! Almost poetic...

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  • Posted November 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Great Book

    It is truly a great book.

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  • Posted January 22, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Eye-opening, moving

    This book was an eye-opener for me simply because I never knew or understood the racial prejudices that occurred in South Africa. This book takes you into the middle of all of that through the eyes of an old, Zulu pastor just trying to find his lost child.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2008

    Deeply Soulful

    Alan Paton does a magnificent job creating a South Africa right in fron of you. He has a very poetic style of writing that echoes in the soul even after you've finished the book. Paton makes us all feel as if it was us trekking the streets of Johannesburg.

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