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Cry, the Beloved Country

Cry, the Beloved Country

4.0 129
by Alan Paton

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The compassionate story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son Absalom.


The compassionate story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son Absalom.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In search of missing family members, Zulu priest Stephen Kumalo leaves his South African village to traverse the deep and perplexing city of Johannesburg in the 1940s. With his sister turned prostitute, his brother turned labor protestor and his son, Absalom, arrested for the murder of a white man, Kumalo must grapple with how to bring his family back from the brink of destruction as the racial tension throughout Johannesburg hampers his attempts to protect his family. With a deep yet gentle voice rounded out by his English accent, Michael York captures the tone and energy of this novel. His rhythmic narration proves hypnotizing. From the fierce love of Kumalo to the persuasive rhetoric of Kumalo's brother and the solemn regret of Absalom, York injects soul into characters tempered by their socioeconomic status as black South Africans. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

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

Meet the Author

Alan Paton, a native son of South Africa, was born in Pietermaritzburg, in the province of Natal, in 1903. Paton's initial career was spent teaching in schools for the sons of rich, white South Africans, But at thirty, 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. He got a job as principal of Diepkloof Reformatory, a huge prison school for delinquent black boys, on the edge of Johannesburg. He worked at Diepkloof for ten years, and 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 stands as the single most important novel in South African literature. Alan Paton died in 1988 in South Africa.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
January 11, 1903
Date of Death:
April 12, 1988
Place of Birth:
Pietermaritzburg, Natal, South Africa
Place of Death:
Durban, Natal, South Africa
Maritzburg College, 1918; B.S., Natal University College, 1924

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Cry, the Beloved Country 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 129 reviews.
Chas_Ackerman More than 1 year ago
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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!
The_hibernators More than 1 year ago
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.
ChingJP More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Why is the beginning about grass?????
AccountabilityCitizenship More than 1 year ago
A classic that transcends nationality and time: http://www.accountabilitycitizenship.org/book-reviews
quiltbrain More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Still important. Still moving.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have to read this in lit and so far its great!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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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Loved this book - very spiritual and timeless story. Good suggestion for a book club.
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