Format: Trade Paperback
Dimensions: 320 pages, 3.15 × 2.07 × 0.31 in
Published: November 1, 2003
The following ISBNs are associated with this title:
ISBN - 10: 0743262174
ISBN - 13: 9780743262170
About the Book
Paton's deeply moving story of Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son Absalom, set against the backdrop of a land and people riven by racial inequality and injustice, remains the most famous and important novel in South Africa's history. Published to coincide with the Miramax film release in December, starring James Earl Jones and Richard Harris.
Read from the Book
Chapter 1 There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them, to Carisbrooke; and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa. About you there is grass and bracken and you may hear the forlorn crying of the titihoya, one of the birds of the veld. Below you is the valley of the Umzimkulu, on its journey from the Drakensberg to the sea; and beyond and behind the river, great hill after great hill; and beyond and behind them, the mountains of Ingeli and East Griqualand. The grass is rich and matted, you cannot see the soil. It holds the rain and the mist, and they seep into the ground, feeding the streams in every kloof. It is well-tended, and not too many cattle feed upon it; not too many fires burn it, laying bare the soil. Stand unshod upon it, for the ground is holy, being even as it came from the Creator. Keep it, guard it, care for it, for it keeps men, guards men, cares for men. Destroy it and man is destroyed. Where you stand the grass is rich and matted, you cannot see the soil. But the rich green hills break down. They fall to the valley below, and falling, change their nature. For they grow red and bare; they cannot hold the rain and mist, and the streams are dry in the kloofs. Too many cattle feed upon the grass, and too many fires have burned it. Stand shod upon it, for it is coarse and sha
From the Publisher
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
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.
About the Author
Political activist Alan Steward Paton was born on January 11, 1903 in Natal, South Africa. He attended Maritzburg College and Natal University. He taught at Ixopo High School and Maritzburg College. In 1935, he was appointed principal of Diepkloof Reformatory for African Boys in Johannesburg and became interested in race relations. Although he intended to become a fulltime writer after the publication of his first book, he instead became involved in politics. He was a member of the Liberal Party of South Africa, serving as vice-president, chairman, and president before the party was forced to disband in 1968 because of its anti-apartheid views. Paton is best known for his political activism and his first novel, Cry, the Beloved Country. He also wrote a second novel, Too Late the Phalarope, and two autobiographies, Toward the Mountains and Journey Continued. He died on April 12, 1988 in Lintrose, Botha's Hill, Natal.
Reading Group Discussion Points
- 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?
- 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?
- 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,
- 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
- 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 horse. Indeed he might have come down from
it, but such a thing is not lightly done." But yet, when the people
of Ndotsheni are in grave trouble, Jarvis provides milk and
irrigation vital to their survival, and later a new church. Why is
he capable of one and not the other? Exactly what is it that is not
lightly done? How and why does such duality exist? What do you feel
about such codes of behavior?
- Cry, the Beloved Country is, in part, a story about
those who stayed and those who left. What happens to the people who
stayed in the tribal villages? What happens to those who left and
went to Johannesburg? What is Paton''s point of view of this mass
migration? Does he feel it was necessary? Inevitable? What is your
- Arthur Jarvis says "It was permissible to allow the destruction
of a tribal system that impeded the growth of the country. It was
permissible to believe that its destruction was inevitable. But it
is not permissible to watch its destruction, and to replace it with
nothing, or by so little, that a whole people deteriorates,
physically and morally." What events in the novel illustrate the
breakup of the tribal system? How is the tribal system destroyed?
What is done to replace it?
- An unidentified white person in the novel offers, "Which do we
suffer, a law-abiding, industrious and purposeful native people, or
a lawless, idle and purposeless people? The truth is, that we do
not know, for we fear them both." What is it that the white man
fears in both instances? Which does the white man suffer in this
novel? What might be Paton''s point of view? What is your opinion
- Throughout the story, Kumalo experiences the absence of God and
momentary losses of faith. He suffers through periods where it
feels as if God has deserted him. What other characters experience
the absence of God? Does Kumalo ever experience the presence of
God? If so, when? Is God basically absent or present in Paton''s
novel? If so, in what way does God manifest Himself?
- Describe the role of faith in the novel. How does it serve
Kumalo and Msimangu, the people of Ndotsheni? Was it faith that
inspired Arthur Jarvis, and hence his father? What about Absalom?
Is there any indication that faith impedes or injures any of the
- There is much mention of secrets in this novel, secrets with no
answers. Father Vincent tells Kumalo, "Yes, I said pray and rest.
Even if it is only words that you pray, and even if your resting is
only a lying on the bed. And do not pray for yourself, and do not
pray to understand the ways of God. For they are a secret. Who
knows what life is, for life is a secret." How does this notion of
secret permeate the novel? What does it give the novel? What effect
do Father Vincent''s words have on Kumalo? How do they affect you?
- Although Kumalo is a priest and often has the highest
intentions, he sometimes does things which are contrary. For
example, when he visits his son''s wife-to-be, in his efforts to
hurt her, he asks if she would take him if he desired her. Where
else do we see Kumalo falter? How do you reconcile these two sides
of Kumalo? How do you relate to him? Do any of the other characters
falter? If so, who? What is it that makes Paton''s characters so
- Kumalo and the demonstrator have very different opinions about
the white man. Kumalo says, "Where would we be without the white
man''s milk? Where would we be without all that this white man has
done for us? Where would you be also? Would you be working for him
here?" And the demonstrator answers, "It was the white man who gave
us so little land, it was the white man who took us away from the
land to go to work. And we were ignorant also. It is all these
things together that have made this valley desolate. Therefore,
what this good white man does is only repayment." How do Kumalo and
the demonstrator reconcile their different points of view? How
might the other characters in the book feel? What is your point of
- The last few sentences Arthur Jarvis wrote before his death
are: "The truth is that our civilization is not Christian; it is a
tragic compound of great ideal and fearful practice, of high
assurance and desperate anxiety, of loving charity and fearful
clutching of possessions." Where in this novel do we see a split
between high ideals and narrow self-interest? Do the characters
embody one or the other, or are they morally mixed? Do you think
what Jarvis feels applies to present-day South Africa? If so, how?
If not, how have things changed?
- What is Paton''s vision of the world? Does he express the view
that human beings are immutable or capable of transformation? Are
we left with any kind of message, any vision for mankind? If so,
what is it?
A Lesson Before Dying, Ernest Gaines
The Autobiography of Jane Pittman, Ernest Gaines
Go Tell It on the Mountain, James Baldwin
Dell Press, 1985
The Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
Vintage Books, 1995
July''s People, Nadine Gordimer
Penguin Books, 1992
The Life and Times of Michael K, J. M. Coetzee
Penguin Books, 1985
Native Son, Richard Wright
Harper Perennial, 1993
Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary
Imagination, Toni Morrison
The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
N.W, Norton, 1993
The Wall of Plague, Andre Brink
Summit Books, 1989
The Ways of White Folks, Langston Hughes
Vintage Books, 1990