Friday, May 22, 2015

Cry, the Beloved Country

     We invited two South African couples for dinner one night a few years ago, and after the cake and coffee were served, I asked if anyone had read Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton, a twentieth century South African writer. I asked the question in innocence and ignorance. At the time, I didn’t know that the book had been banned during apartheid and that its author had been a controversial figure. No one at the table but me had read it.

     My pen pal recommended the book to me, so I borrowed it from the library and promptly fell in love with it. I think it is one of the best books I have ever read. It was written before I was born, and yet, I didn't find it until I was 46 years old.

     The consensus among our guests that night was that it was primarily a political book. I had seen it reviewed by Oprah Winfrey and former president Bill Clinton on television, and they too, presented the book as a protest against the structures of a society that would lead to apartheid. Yes, social injustice is one of its themes. 

     It is also a book that has undergone a great deal of scrutiny. Activists have criticized it for falling short of their own political ideals. Some have painted it as sentimental, while others praise it for its searing beauty and consider it to be the most important novel in South Africa’s history.

     I told our dinner guests that I thought it was a book about forgiveness. I think it is true that we often take from a book what we bring to it. We all carry within us a system of beliefs that informs our thinking. At the core of my own beliefs stands the unfathomable forgiveness that restores my broken relationship with God, and the call to reflect that forgiveness to others around me. In Cry, the Beloved Country the struggle for equity is certainly present between its pages, as is the struggle for justice and for understanding; but the struggle for forgiveness is the siren call of searing beauty that has me returning to the book again and again. 

     It still haunts me.

     "The tragedy is not that things are broken. The tragedy is that things are not mended again."

                                                                     ~ Alan Paton ~


  1. I read Cry, the Beloved Country decades ago and was so moved by both the subject and my feelings upon reading it. You have written beautifully of it here. I probably didn't think about it being about forgiveness when I read it all those years ago but know I should read it again, thinking about God's forgiveness of me, not because of anything I've done but because of what Christ did for me on the cross.

    Thank you for tackling a complicated subject, on many levels.

  2. oh my! now I want to read this book as well! So much to read, so little life!;-)

    I appreciate your last paragraph, have read it several times. It is good to be reminded that people bring to everything a piece of where we've been and misunderstandings can stem from this difference. thank-you for helping me better forgive and to see, if not through eyes of understanding at least human sympathy because we are a product of our own experiences. You are a gifted word-smith.