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A BOOK TO READ: CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY

Cry, The Beloved Country is a novel written by Alan Paton and was published in 1948. It was published by Scribner in USA and Jonathan Cape in the UK. The book, which is a social protest against the structures of the society, would later give rise to apartheid. It has 256 pages story on this issue.

Two cinema adaptations of the book have been made, the first in 1951 and the second in 1995.  Cry, The Beloved Country was also adapted as a musical called ‘Lost in the stars’ (1949), with a book by the American writer Maxwell Anderson and music composed by the German émigré Kurt Weill.

CHARACTERS

The characters in Cry, The Beloved Country has mostly Biblical names and they include Stephen Kumalo (a 69-year-old Zulu priest, the central character), Theophilus Nsimangu (a Johannesburg priest), John Kumalo (Stephen’s brother), Absalom Kumalo (Stephen’s son), Gertrude Kumalo (Stephen’s young sister), James Jarvis (a wealthy landowner), Arthur Jarvis (James’ son), Mr. Carmicheal (Absalom’s lawyer), Father Vincent (an English priest), Mrs. Lithebe (a native housewife of Msimangu), and The Girl (Absalom’s 16-year-old wife).

SUMMARY

The novel sets in the remote village of Ndotsheni, in the Natal province of eastern South Africa. Reverend Stephen Kumalo receives a letter from a fellow minister summoning him to Johannesburg. The letter reads that her sister, Gertrude Kumalo, had fallen ill.

Kumalo undertakes his journey to Johannesburg to see her sister, as well as his son, Absalom, who left Ndotsheni for Johannesburg and never returned. He met Nsimangu, the fellow minister who had sent him the letter. There, Kumalo met Mrs. Lithebe, a Christian woman who helped him lodge comfortably in Nsimangu’s house. Kumalo visits Gertrude, who is now a prostitute and liquor seller. He persuades her to return to Ndotsheni with her young son.

A more difficult quest follows as Kumalo and Msimangu search for Absalom. Kumalo visited his brother John Kumalo who is now a wealthy man. He informed them that Absalom once worked in the same factory with his son.

As Kumalo travels from place to place, he begins to see the gaping racial and economic divisions in the land that is threatening to split his country. He eventually discovered that Absalom has spent time in a reformatory and that he has gotten a girl pregnant.

It was discovered that Absalom had murdered a white named Arthur Jarvis. Despite the fact that Kumalo gets his son a lawyer, he was given a death penalty and an acquittal for the two other defendants. The 16-year-old girl Absalom got pregnant promises to marry him, despite hearing the news of Absalom’s murder case. Kumalo also met James Jarvis who happens to be the father of Arthur, a land-owner in Ndotsheni. At the close of the novel, Kumalo couldn’t take heart for his son’s death. He weeps when he is alone and clasps his hands in prayer as dawn breaks over the valley he has visited to mourn.

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