Never has a book had such a profound impact on me as this has. I first read it in 7th form (Year 13) and I wrote an essay on it for my final English exam. I have a feeling that my absolute love for this book was
one of the reasons why I ended up with a Scholarship in Bursary English. My own copy of the book has been in my bookshelf for years, and has had many a passage underlined and many pages stained with tears.
I felt so strongly about this story that when Mark and I travelled to South Africa in 2002, I made a special point of travelling to the Drakensburg mountains where the story is set, and the beauty of it in real life was as achingly real as it was in the book.
And so, the story begins:
'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.'
So that's why I'm so pleased to be hosting this month's book club because I so want you to be able to experience this deeply emotional story. This book will move you beyond belief. It's a story of hope amongst hopelessness, and fear overcome by love and courage even in the midst of the deepest pain and suffering.
The story is set both in a small rural village in South Africa and in Johannesburg. It brings together two separate stories, that of a black man and respected priest of the village Stephen Kumalo, and the nearby white land owner James Jarvis. It is set before the full rise of apartheid in South Africa, but foreshadows with poignancy the sickness which rose in the land.
The story starts with Kumalo setting off for Johannesburg in search of his wayward son and sister who, some time ago, left for a new life in Johannesburg, but were never to be heard from again. It is what happens to most young people who grow up in this place.
'Down in the valleys women scratch the soil that is left, and the maize hardly reaches the height of a man. They are valleys of old men and old women, of mothers and children. The men are away, the young men and the girls are away. The soil cannot keep them anymore.'
Arriving in the big city is a huge culture shock for Kumalo, and he quickly realises that most of his people have turned to desperate and unlawful measures just to survive here. With the helpful of his newly found friend, a fellow priest Msimangu, he manages to rescues his sister from a life of prostitution.
'They all talked of the sickness of the land, of the broken tribe and the broken house, of young men and young girls that went away and forgot their customs, and lived loose and idle lives.'
'The tragedy is not that things are broken. The tragedy is that they are not mended again. The white man has broken the tribe. It suited the white man to break the tribe, but it has not suited him to build something in place of what is broken.'
As Kumalo searches with growing desperation for his only son, his fear grows.
'Cry for the broken tribe, for the law and the custom that is gone. Aye and cry aloud for the man who is dead, for the woman and children bereaved. Cry, the beloved country, these things are not yet at an end. The sun pours down on the earth, the lovely land that man cannot enjoy. He knows only the fear of his heart.'
Johannesburg is a city in fear. The white people fear the black, and in doing so the fear is self-fulfilling.
'Who knows who we shall fashion a land of peace where black outnumbers white so greatly? For we fear not only the loss of our possessions, but the loss of our superiority and the loss of our whiteness'
'The truth is that our Christian civilisation is riddled through and through with dilemma. We believe in the brotherhood of man, but we do not want it in South Africa. We justify our actions by saying that it took us thousands of years to achieve our own advancement, and it would be foolish to suppose it will take the black man any lesser time, and therefore there is no need to hurry'.
And then, in one terrible moment, a crime is committed, that brings the paths of these two men, Kumalo and Jarvis, inextricably together. It is in the last part of the book, in spite of the inner torment these two men are suffering, and despite going against the flow of what is happening in the rest of the country between their two peoples, that these men forge a new way forward together, one that restores hope for the broken tribe, and help for the desolate land.
'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. I see only one hope for our country, and that is when white men and black men, desiring neither power nor money, but desiring only the good of their country, come together to work for it.'
'Pain and suffering, they are a secret. Kindness and love, they are a secret. But I have learnt that kindness and love can pay for pain and suffering.'
The story closes with a glimmer of hope in the midst of a nation in utter darkness.
'Yes, it is the dawn that has come. Ndotsheni is still in darkness, but the light will come there also. For it is the dawn that has come, 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.'
I truly cannot contain my tears every time I read or write the beautiful words of this book. They are beautiful, they are lyrical, they are truth.
I hope I have convinced you to read Cry, the Beloved Country for yourself. Every local library or bookstore is bound to have a copy of this classic, or you can get it on Book Depository delivered to your door for as little as $16-17. Or alternatively, please comment below to enter my giveaway to win a new copy of the book. I'll draw the winner on Monday 9th July, and it's open to anyone, anywhere.
I'd love to know your thoughts once you have had the opportunity to read it, so please come back and link up your own review of Cry, the Beloved Country (or even a review of any other book you read in July!).The linky will be open all month.