Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Patton

Rating: 5/5

One sentence: A great book about the political and economic divides that have to a large extent defined the history of South Africa

As a result of our move to Johannesburg, many of our books have come to light and are now on our bookshelves that were previously just stored out of sight in the garage. Out of boredom I have gone through the books that were previously visible many times and had read all those that seemed interesting. The effect is very similar to suddenly buying a lot of books.

This book is famous and like many others, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I was not disappointed and surprised to find how much of this book is still highly relevant today.

The story is of a black rural pastor that goes to the big city of Johannesburg to find his sister and son who went there searching for work and have stopped sending letters. He is amazed and totally overwhelmed by his first contact with busy streets, bright lights and hordes of people.

Almost directly after arrival a misfortune befalls him and it is only the start of his story.He finds his sister and is appalled to learn that she works as a prostitute in a bad neighbourhood and neglects her son. Searching for his son he hears reports that he had fallen into bad ways and that his son was probably a thief.

A murder that is typical of the high crime prevalent then (and now) befalls one of the prime supporters of repressed black people whose previous way of life had been destroyed by the mining industry without creating any cultural framework to replace the moral code that they had lost.

This story accurately portrays the inner thoughts and emotions of people caught up in an unjust social order with rising tensions moving towards conflict. It tells of people caught up in circumstances beyond their control and amidst the pain and fear how people can find redemption and forgiveness.

It is poetically written with phrases such as

“But when that dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret.”

Or:

“Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that’s the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing. Nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him if he gives too much.”

He speaks of the interplay between justice and being just when the laws of a land are corrupt.

“The Judge does not make the law. It is people that make the law. Therefore if a law is unjust, and if the Judge judges according to the law, that is justice, even if it is not just.”

Some things have changed since this book was written. That is not surprising. What is surprising is how much has stayed the same. Despite a new constitution. Despite 20 years of democracy and full political representation. 50 years after being written, I can read it and it feels like a story that happened yesterday, or could happen tomorrow.

This book taught me more about my country than any other. I taught much about the human condition. Some parts I knew but could not express and others I have not encountered in my sheltered upbringing. I cried reading this book. I cried for a country that is moving forward slowly if it is moving forward at all.

To happiness, and beyond!

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