altCry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton (Scribner, 2003, originally published 1948)

I resisted reading this classic book for a long time; it's doubtful I would have read it this month were it not for the looming deadline for 95 by 65 goal #63. I knew nothing against Cry, the Beloved Country other than that it was something people read in schools, and that's enough to condemn it in my eyes. But the greatest reason is that it was just one out of hundreds of books in my life crying out to be read.

Cry, the Beloved Country is well worth reading and far, far better than anything school ever offered me. In truth, however, I'm not sure I was ready for it, even in high school. I didn't have enough experience, and certainly didn't have enough knowledge. In my classes, the history of South Africa hardly got beyond "Isn't apartheid terrible?"

Even more significant, however, is that it would be horrible to sit in a classroom and have this beautiful book picked apart. It is a book to be experienced, not analyzed, at least not on the first reading. It is a book to be pondered, to be savored, to be thought about with the heart. It is a beautiful book filled with grief and suffering and despair and hope and redemption.

It may even be a book my 13-year-old grandson could benefit from, despite my thoughts that I wasn't ready for it in high school. I don't know. It might be a gateway to further interest in Africa, a book to come back to again later. It talks about bad things, but in the way of books written in the 1940's, they are treated sensitively and are not at all "adult" meaning prurient or "graphic" meaning lurid.

Beyond his clear love of his native land, his sense of justice, and his fear for South Africa's future, Paton's style is a delight to read. It's different, but gives the feel of a foreign language and culture while remaining completely intelligible.

No quotations this time. Read the whole book. :)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, May 24, 2017 at 12:15 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 694 times
Category Reviews: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

I read it voluntarily when I was in high school - very different from having it as assigned reading. It's too bad that schools can ruin good books.

Posted by Kathy Lewis on Wednesday, May 24, 2017 at 7:23 pm

Hijack post alert!

I agree that this is probably a book I should come back to. I read it a couple of years ago with Billy and was surprised (for some reason) at how good and moving it was.

Maybe I should do a geographical reading list - this year Africa, next year Asia, etc. I'd have to come up with some more titles.

I have read (I didn't think I had read many books related to Africa, but the list grows longer as I think about it):
*Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton (South Africa)
*The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay (South Africa)
*The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba (Malawi)
*Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe(Nigeria)
*Half the Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)
*Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)
*Born Free by Joy Adamson (Kenya)
*The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith (Botswana) - does this really count?
*Cry of the Kalahari/Eye of the Elephant by Mark and Delia Owens (Southern Africa)
*The Constant Gardener by John LeCarre (Kenya) not at all what I was thinking it was about - not sure it counts
*The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Belgian Congo)
*A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah (Sierra Leone)
*Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller (South/Central Africa)
*They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky by Benson Deng (Sudan)
*When We Were Gods by Colin Falconer (Egypt) I have no memory of reading this, but there it is on my list!
*Bill Bryson's African Diary (Kenya)
*The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh (South Africa)
*Walking the Nile by Levison Wood (multiple countries)

So, suggestions for books on Africa? It is a very large continent (despite what our Mercator projections would have us believe), so I am sure there are many more books worth reading.

Sorry about the hijack, but you know how I am with books. Certainly "Cry, The Beloved Country" is near the top of my list on books I have read related to Africa.


Posted by dstb on Thursday, May 25, 2017 at 8:52 am

It's a welcome hijack, Sarah. What a good list -- do you have any particular recommendations?

I have only a couple to add from my lists:

West Africa Is My Back Yard by Mark Williams

The Gambia in Depth published by the Peace Corps

One Plastic Bag by Isatou Ceesay (children's book)

The Village on the Edge of the World by A. T. Oram.

They are all about The Gambia, three guesses why I read them and the first two don't count. I recommend the last two highly; the first are good to read if you're going there, but otherwise not so much.

Posted by SursumCorda on Thursday, May 25, 2017 at 9:17 am

My personal favorites in addition to Cry, the Beloved Country are:
The Power of One
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
Cry of the Kalahari

I also enjoyed the two books I have read by Adichie, but I am not sure if they would appeal to you. That may be true for The Power of One, as well, but I absolutely loved that book.

The above books that I did not care for were:
Things Fall Apart (maybe because of the ending. Achebe is held in high esteem by many, but this book was not a favorite of mine).
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs at Night
The Fever Tree

The others were neither at the top nor bottom of my list.

Other books on Africa that I have not read, but are possibilities for the future:
*Facing the Lion (Kenya)
*King Leopold's Ghost (Congo)
*Heart of Darkness (Congo)
*Blood River (Congo)
*Long Walk to Freedom (South Africa)
*Born a Crime (South Africa)
*We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families (Rwanda)
*The Flame Trees of Thika (Kenya)
*Colour Bar (Botswana) - now a movie called A United Kingdom
A Long Walk to Water (Sudan)

You can see the books listed are predominantly from countries I would have heard of as a child - Kenya, South Africa, Congo. There are large gaps on the map. Surprisingly, other than When We Were Gods, I have nothing for Egypt.


Posted by dstb on Thursday, May 25, 2017 at 2:55 pm
Add comment

(Comments may be delayed by moderation.)