Cry the Beloved Country
Alan Paton

This book tells the story of a man named Stephen Kumalo who makes a journey from his small village Ndotsheni to Johannesburg and back again. A year before, Kumalo’s sister Gretchen and his son Abasalom went to Johannesburg. They went separately and for different reasons, but neither of them ever returned. After hearing word from a priest in Johannesburg named Msimangu that his sister is very sick, Kumalo and his wife scrape together their money so that he might go to the big city and find his sister and his son.

Kumalo takes the train to Johannesburg. He finally makes it to Msimangu’s home and the two of them go to find Gretchen. They find her living in the worst part of town, and Kumalo finds out that her “sickness” is actually more of a spiritual sickness. She is a prostitute and has a son. Kumalo asks her to return to Ndotsheni with him and she agrees. She goes with him to the home in which he is staying in Johannesburg.

Kumalo must now find his son. He goes from place to place to place, meeting dead end after dead end. Finally, he finds some news. His son is at a reform school and has been recently released because he showed good leadership and was able to find a job. Kumalo goes to the home of Absalom’s girlfriend, who he finds is with child, and asks her where Absalom is. She informs him that he went to work three or so days ago and he had not returned.

Meanwhile, in the city, there was a headline saying that a white man had been killed by natives. Kumalo’s son and two other men are arrested for the murder of this white man. Kumalo finally finds his son in jail. Kumalo tries to find out what happened, and a lawyer is brought in who agrees to do the case for free.

Kumalo’s son is sentenced to death by hanging and the other two men are released. Kumalo is crushed. After all of his desperate searching and time and money, he finds his son, only to see him sentenced to death.

A marriage ceremony is performed between the girl and Absalom so that the child will have a name and so that the girl can return with Kumalo to Ndotsheni. Kumalo says a tearful goodbye to his son and he goes back to the room where he is staying, with intentions of leaving the next day for his home, taking Gretchen, her son, and the girl back with him.

In the morning, however, Gretchen has disappeared. Kumalo returns to Ndotsheni with his nephew and his new daughter-in-law. The three of them are welcomed warmly even though the townspeople know what has taken place in Kumalo’s family.

There is a white man named Jarvis who lives not too far from Kumalo. His son was murdered by Kumalo’s son, and the two men met while in Johannesburg. Jarvis holds no bitterness, however, and he makes it his new goal to help the village of Ndotsheni in whatever way he can. He sends milk for the little children when they are dying and he sends a man to help the people learn how to better farm their land. This man also promises that he will help Kumalo build a new church.

Kumalo’s world is full of hope once again. Even though his people are suffering, the land is infertile, and he has had terrible tragedy in his family, he is still able to pray and hope in God. Kumalo does not give in to his despair; he rises above it.

I really enjoyed this book. It did get a little long at times, but it was a great story. This would be such a great book to use in the classroom. It teaches so many wonderful lessons and it paints a picture of what life was like for the black Africans during apartheid and how the whites treated them. The black people who lived in the villages in their tribes were left with nothing after their tribes and their land was destroyed. This is a beautiful story of a man who had lost all hope but then was able to find a friend. Kumalo and Jarvis should not have been friends and Jarvis should not have helped Kumalo – according to their society. But both men rose above their grief, their despair, and their social barriers and chose to help. - JH