Thursday, January 7, 2010

Book Recommendation: Cry, The Beloved Country

I have read a number of excellent books in the past month or so - see my list of last month's books, on the right side of this page, a few of which were amongst those recommended by some of you last month when I posted about my favourite books of 2009.

One of the recommended books (thanks Kristen; also for the recommendation of Stones From the River, which was an excellent and unique read) was a book entitled Cry, The Beloved Country, written by Alan Paton, set in South Africa, and published in 1948.  I just finished that book yesterday evening and would highly recommend it.  The plot is simple on its face - about a black Zulu parson, who sets out from the hills to Johannesburg in search of his only son, and whose interactions with a few other primary characters along the way are written about with poetic and profound compassion.  The journey is both sorrowful and inspiring; and Paton weaves through the story a picture of the racially divisive social system that must have been typical of that time and that place.  The character development is wonderful and some of his thoughts profound and still highly relevant today.

Here is just one of many passages which I found to be poignant, thought provoking, still relevant:
We do not know, we do not know. We shall live from day to day, and put more locks on the doors, and get a fine fierce dog when the fine fierce bitch next door has pups, and hold on to our handbags more tenaciously; and the beauty of the trees by night, and the raptures of lovers under the stars, these things we shall forego. We shall forego the coming home drunken through the midnight streets, and the evening walk over the star-lit veld. We shall be careful, and knock this off our lives, and knock that off our lives, and hedge ourselves about with safety and precaution. And our lives will shrink, but they shall be the lives of superior beings; and we shall live with fear, but at least it will not be a fear of the unknown. And the conscience shall be thrust down; the light of life shall not be extinguished, but be put under a bushel, to be preserved for a generation that will live by it again, in some day not yet come; and how it will come, and when it will come, we shall not think about at all.  (p.79)
I couldn't help but wonder about myself, sixty-one years after this book was released and in a very different social context: How do my fears still affect how I choose to live my life?  And at what cost?  What have I forgone in my need to eliminate or minimize fear?  How has my life been reduced in my effort to make life safer, easier, more palatable?  Interesting thoughts indeed; I'll be thinking about this book for a while.

1 comment:

  1. I read that book probably about five years ago and parts of it have stuck with me. When I read the passage that you included from the book, I was reminded once again how profound and well written it was.