Cry, the Beloved Country

Cry, the Beloved Country

An Oprah Book Club selection, Cry, the Beloved Country, the most famous and important novel in South Africa’s history, was an immediate worldwide bestseller in 1948. Alan Paton’s impassioned novel about a black man’s country under white man’s law is a work of searing beauty.

Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is 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 valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.

The eminent literary critic Lewis Gannett wrote, “We have had many novels from statesmen and reformers, almost all bad; many novels from poets, almost all thin. In Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country the statesman, the poet and the novelist meet in a unique harmony.”

Cry, the Beloved Country is the deeply moving story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son, Absalom, set against the background of a land and a people riven by racial injustice. Remarkable for its lyricism, unforgettable for character and incident, Cry, the Beloved Country is a classic work of love and hope, courage and endurance, born of the dignity of man.

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Discussion Points
  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 hors
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More Books from this Author

Tales From a Troubled Land
Ah, But Your Land Is Beautiful
Too Late The Phalarope

About the Author

Alan Paton

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.

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