Cry, the Beloved Country Offers Unexpected Hope

Please welcome my sister, Camille, for her first guest post, an inspirational review of a book she recommends, Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton. Please share your thoughts in the comments below about the story, social injustices, personal journeys, repentance or hope.

Buy From AmazonWhy is it after reading such a tragic story that I was left with such a feeling of hope?  Cry, the Beloved Country is a tragedy; the tragedy of a young man’s life and the tragedy of a country wrought with injustice.  But it is also a story of journeys and the hope that will come.  Stephen Kumalo’s journey is to find his son and to free him from the evils of the city by bringing him home.   Africa’s journey is to rise above racial injustice.  Stephen suffers in seeing that his son has committed a crime and that his son must suffer the consequences.  Africa’s suffering is in the land that won’t grow crops, in the injustices, in the crimes committed.   Both the characters and the country descend into great suffering, but then rise in hope.

I love how Stephen’s journey ends with such hope despite the sad result of his son’s trial.  There is hope for the land and town of Ndotsheni.  The soil and farming problems which caused so many of the natives of Ndotsheni to leave are finally being addressed and work is being done to help the land to produce.  Ironically, the one who suffered the most from the tragedy, Mr. Jarvis, is the one who brings this hope.  He uses his influence to bring about changes in the land, to help build the dam, and to bring the young demonstrator.

And there is hope for Kumalo’s family.  Even though Absalom must suffer the punishment for his crime and there is no hope for him, there is hope in the family Kumalo brings home with him: his nephew, Gertrude’s son; his new daughter-in-law, Absalom’s wife; and his expected grandchild.  Where one life is lost, life is given to three others.

This journey of suffering and hope also involves some choices and questions we can ask ourselves in our personal journeys.  When we are extended a hand of help while in our suffering, that hand offering hope, do we accept it or reject it?  Are we like Absalom’s new wife who embraces the chance to rise above her suffering and goes home with Kumalo to a family?  Or are we like Gertrude wanting the help, but not quite willing to make the choices that will make us happier, and then walking away from the person who offers the chance for change and hope?

And isn’t it interesting that those who suffer the most in this story, Jarvis and Kumalo, are the ones who are able to offer hope to others.  When we are suffering how easy is it for us to see past ourselves and our own suffering and offer hope to others? Is there something about forgetting yourself in the service of others that helps to lessen our suffering?

There is something spiritual about the journeys and suffering  of Kumalo and Jarvis and their country, that makes me think of Jesus Christ who suffered the greatest and who offers us a hand of hope, the most perfect hope of all.

There is such beauty, poetry, and symbolism in the last scene.  Kumalo is standing on the mountaintop looking to the east waiting for the sun to rise.  He knows that when it rises his son’s life will be taken for the crime he committed.  Yet he knows that as the dawn always comes, so does the hope.

“Yes, it is the dawn that has come.  The titihoya wakes from sleep, and goes about its work of forlorn crying. The sun tips with light the mountains of Ingeli and East Griqualand.  The great valley of the Umzimkulu is still in darkness, but the light will come there.  Ndotsheni is still in darkness, but the light will come there also.”

And just as the hope comes to his town and his family, he knows that it will someday come to his beloved country.  While his country still is in the depths of suffering, its journey hopefully will take it to a mountaintop where the sun will also rise.

“For it is the dawn that has come, as it has come for a thousand centuries, never failing.  But when the dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why that is a secret.”

4 Comments

  1. TJ
    Mar 30, 2009

    Thanks for the recommendation Camille. Honestly, I had a hard time getting into the book until I read an exchange between the two priests, one was Stephen Kumalo, the other was the priest in Johannesburg, Msimangu, who helped him search for his son. After they uncover a sad turn in the situation, Kumalo wants to respond to the need and help an individual. Msimangu tells Kumalo, “I tell you, you can do nothing. Have you not had trouble enough of your own? I tell you there are thousands , such in Johannesburg. And were your back as broad as heaven, and your purse full of gold, and did your compassion reach from here to hell itself, there is nothing you can do.”

    This scene introduces, for me, the conflict between the desire to make a better world and problems so immense that it seems there is little that can be done to help. That conflict continues throughout the story, in the descriptions of the problems that plague this country but also in the personal and family life of Kumalo.

    Where I felt the hope you speak of is when Kumalo returns home, a changed man, wanting to change his village to at least make it a place where the people can stay. But, he has much desire and few resources to bring that about. What a surprising ending to find out who was to help him to achieve that in a quiet way.

    The story renews my understanding that moving further and further toward the big and complex societal problems we see isn’t necessarily the most effective way to work toward a solution. Often those solutions come in quieter, but more significant efforts closer to home.

  2. Michelle at Scribbit
    Mar 31, 2009

    Gosh that book hardly sounds like the same one that I plodded through in eleventh grade. I had this teacher who was really really into Russian lit so she was about as cheerful as a case of malaria (probably all that Dostoevsky in her diet). She had us read this and I hated it but maybe it’s time for a retry.

  3. Mozi Esme's Mommy
    Apr 2, 2009

    I haven’t read this yet, but I just put it on hold at the library – it looks quite interesting. Thanks for sharing the review.

  4. Samu
    Apr 20, 2009

    i have read this book. i am only in grade 10 and i am still understanding the book. i have been asked to do a project on this and i am also begginig to understand it. this book is a sad book and it shares how and what people went through in those times. i recommend this book to people who are looking for a book that will not only bring sadness but hope…
    Samu

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