Sunday, September 23, 2018
Alan Paton, Cry, The Beloved Country (Scribbner, 1948, 1987).
Available in numerous print editions, as well as Nook, Kindle and Audible. There are also two movie versions.
Recommended by Wilda Morris
It has been several decades since I first read Cry, the Beloved Country. When I decided to listen to a recording of the book and get hold of a hard copy to look at again, I was surprised at how poetic the writing is.
"There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills." This poetic line introduces us to Ndotsheni, Natal, South Africa where Rev. Stephen Kumalo, a Zulu Christian, pastors St. Mark's, a small church of African natives. As the narrator describes the hills with grass bracken and "the forlorn crying of the titihoya," the great river and the mountains, the reader gets the feeling of being in something of a paradise. "Stand unshod upon it," the reader is told, "for the ground is holy, being even as it came from the Creator. Keep it, guard it, care of it, for it keeps men, guards men, cares for men. Destroy it and man is deserted."
Indeed, the land is already suffering from too many cattle, too many fires, too much discouragement. "Stand shod upon it, for it is coarse and sharp, and the stones cut under the feet. It is not kept, or guarded, or cared for, it no longer keeps men, guards men, cares for men. The titihoya does not cry here anymore."
The story of Stephen Kumalo begins in this valley as lightning flashes, rain pours, dead streams come to life. It is not only the red soil that has been washed away. But, as we are told in chapter 9, "All roads lead to Johannesburg. If you are white or if you are black they lead to Johannesburg."
The plot comes alive when Kumalo receives a letter from Johannesburg. "How we desire such a letter," says his wife, "and when it comes we fear to open it." Whenever a letter arrives from the capital city, they hope it is from their son Absalom, or from his sister Gertrude, or his brother John. Like hundreds of others, these three have migrated to--and seeming disappeared permanently in—the big city. Alas, the letter is not from any of their loved ones. It is from Rev. Msimangu at The Mission House. He has met Gertrude and learned that her brother is a pastor. He tells Stephen that Gertrude is very sick and urges him to come to Johannesburg right away.
Kumalo's income is small. He and his wife have managed to save up just a little money, which they had planned to spend on their son's education. They agree that Stephen should use the money to finance a trip to to the city to help Gertrude. Mrs. Kumalo says Absalom will never go to St. Chads, as planned, because "When people go to Johannesburg, they do not come back."
Kumalo's trip to the urban center is not only expensive; it is a source of sorrow and disillusionment. A young man cheats him out of some of his meager funds by pretending to purchase a bus ticket for him. He learns that his sister-in-law is not physically sick; rather, she has become a prostitute. His brother-in-law is no longer the honest businessman man he was; now he is a rabble-rousing politician. His son, who has gotten in with the wrong crowd, seems always to be one step ahead of his father's search. What even greater sorrows, and what moments of grace and shows of love he will meet, I leave to the reader to find out.
This is not just a poetically written novel with an interesting plot and rich characters. It is also a book about the disintegration of native society in South Africa. Colonialism resulted in dehumanization of the native people, the breaking of their cultural bonds, and destruction of the livelihoods of thousands. Msimangu, the young African priest, whose letter had brought Kumalo to Johannesburg, is at the theological heart of this novel. He says, at one point, that the real tragedy is not that the old ways were broken up, but that the white men who broke up the tribe did not repair it or replace it. When the tribe fell apart, the family fell apart, and the children were lost. He urges black Africans to continue to love everyone, but fears that by the time the white men in power learn to love the Africans, the Africans will have learned hate. What is needed is for everyone to work together for the welfare of the country, not for each group to seek power over groups (Chapter 5).
Kumalo, though basically kind and loving, is a somewhat flawed character, which makes him fully believable. And among the white South Africans, there is one who stands out as remarkable because of his understanding of the plight of his black brothers. Arthur Jarvis, a highly respected English-speaking white man, is a city engineer. He has studied the history of South Africa. His library is stuffed with books about Abraham Lincoln. He has pictures of Lincoln, and of the Crucified Christ on his wall, along with two photos representing the history and beauty of his beloved country. He has good relationships with the English, the Afrikaans, the "colored" and the black Africans. He serves as president of the Claremont African Boys Club. Because of his Christian faith and his love for his country, he is working for an end to oppressive practices. He has become a popular speaker, especially among advocates for reform. One of the great tragedies of the book is that he is accidentally killed.
"Cry for the broken tribe, for the law and the custom that is gone. Aye, and cry aloud for them and who is dead, for the woman and children bereaved. Cry, the beloved country, that these things are not yet at an end" (Chapter 11).
Can there be healing where there has been oppression? Can people whose lives are different learn to respect or even love one another? Can they truly lament each other's sorrows? Can people forgive the wrong done to them? Can their fears of one another be overcome? Reconciliation and redemption are played out against this backdrop in the developing relationship between Kumalo and Arthur's father, James Jarvis, who turns out to be a neighbor. Realistically, though, the author knew that the story was not, could not be, over. So, although the book ends with the titihoya and its forlorn cry and the coming of dawn, it is the dawn "as it has come for a thousand centuries, never failing. But when that dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret."
Cry, the Beloved Country made a powerful impact when it was first published about eighty years ago. It is still relevant today, and not only to South Africa. There are still millions of the people who are oppressed by the societies in which they live and millions more in bondage to fear that if those who are oppressed achieve equality it will be at their expense. The need for love and forgiveness, the need reconciliation and redemption remains.
I urge you to read Cry, the Beloved Country. And reread it.
Wednesday, August 29, 2018
Francine Rivers, Her Mother’s Hope (Tyndale, 2011).
Francine Rivers, Her Daughter’s Dream (Tyndale, 2011).
Both available in hardback, paperback, Nook, Kindle and Audible.
Recommended by Barbara Penrod Andrey
Her Mother's Hope and Her Daughter's Dream by Francine Rivers comprise a two-book series, called “Marta’s Legacy.”
If family dynamics interest you I highly recommend reading these books. They mostly focus on mother-daughter relationships spanning four generations.
These books show how a misunderstanding can cause a huge rift in a family. They also show the importance of open communication. The women of these books have the struggles all mothers share. They do everything they can for their children out of love even if their children don't see it.
After years of her mother and grandmother barely speaking to each other, May Flower Dawn finally brings them together so everyone can learn to get along before her baby comes.
Her mother, Carolyn, continues the journey of fixing relationships by going to Switzerland. She visits places her Oma lived when she was a child. She finds exactly what her mother needs to prove her mother's love.