Cry, The Beloved Country
I finished Cry, The Beloved Country a few weeks ago and it’s still on my mind. I know, it’s an old one. Copyright 1948. But! There’s a reason it’s endured. The writing is so well done, the story so well told, moving fluidly from a distant narrative stance to a much closer perspective (<—– see, I learned stuff last week!) and back again.
But it’s the themes Paton explores with incredibly nuanced and complex characters that are still at the forefront of my mind. It looks at race and what it means for a black country to be under white rule in a way that is amazingly intricate and complicated. It’s not overly simplified with the white folks portrayed as evil and bad while the black folks are depicted as innocent and good, which would be both easy and understandable. Yet Paton still homes in on the abhorrence of white supremacy and its far-reaching and unexpected consequences in ways that completely gutted me. Really profound and captivating.
A few of the quotes I’ve gone back and looked at again and again…
But most white men do not know this truth about power, and they are afraid lest we get it. He stood as though he was testing his exposition. Yes, this is right about power, he said. But there is only one thing that has power completely, and that is love. Because when a man loves, he seeks no power, and therefore he has power…
He was grave and silent, and then he said sombrely, I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find we are turned to hating.
^ This one feels apropos to me today as my spirit churns within me reading about our President and his supporters — especially his Christian supporters. I wrestle because it feels righteous to hate the hateful. But should they one day turn to loving, I do not want them to find that I have turned to hating.
One can read, as I read when I was a boy, the brochures about lovely South Africa, that land of sun and beauty sheltered from the storms of the world, and feel pride in it and love for it, and yet know nothing about it at all…
I was born on a farm, brought up by honourable parents, given all that a child could need or desire. They were upright and kind and law-abiding; they taught me my prayers and took me regularly to church; they had no trouble with servants and my father was never short of labour. From them I learned all that a child should learn of honour and charity and generousity. But of South Africa I learned nothing at all.
^ And this, too, has brought interesting questions and convictions. How much of America do our boys understand? As we talk at home about God and church, praying and politics, kneeling at football games and police brutality, the Nashville statement and military policy, travel bans and refugees, and on and on and on… what do Gryffin and Isaiah understand about the United States? Are we teaching them only to be upright and kind and law-abiding? Or are we teaching them about the inner workings of systemic injustice? Are we teaching them about the underpinnings of a society built on genocide and slavery and colonizing? And I wonder if this is part of how we got into our current mess? Did too many parents teach the former and neglect the latter?
Other recent reads that are worth your time
by Yaa Gyasi
The Underground Railroad
by Colson Whitehead
Born a Crime
by Trevor Noah