Thursday, February 4, 2016

Cry, the Beloved Country: 100% Complete

I finished Cry, the Beloved Country, two years after I began it. All the way through, since I picked this book back up, I've been trying to put my finger on "what is the book about." I wanted to find the root, the topic, of the story and I couldn't. There is much complexity here, topics of race relations, religion, politics, family, and crime run through the story. But on page 247 (out of 251) it hit me. The book is about a relationship between two men: James Jarvis, a white, albeit progressive, landowner, and Stephen Kumalo, a black Zulu reverend who lives nearby.

Midway through the book Kumalo's son murders Jarvis's son during a burglary gone bad and is sentenced to death. As Kumalo wrestles with losing his son in this way, Jarvis has also lost his son. Despite the incredible divide separating them based on race and class, the two men show immense compassion and connection with each other. The beautiful part here is the subtext of their conversations. They speak kindness and friendship without breaking convention. It is clear that both men appreciate the other's part in their complex relationship, but this appreciation is never voiced. I loved this complexity and depth so much that I felt emotional reading their conversations, despite not being able to identify the emotion. I found one example of that here. In this quote, Jarvis and Kumalo are speaking about Jarvis's grandson, the young boy of his murdered son, a child whom Kumalo has befriended. (Note: there are several Zulu forms of address in this book, including umnumzana, meaning "sir.")

"And then Kumalo said, Indeed, I have never seen a child as he is.

Jarvis turned on his horse and in the dark the grave silent man was eager. What do you mean? he asked.

-Umnumzana, there is a brightness inside him.

-Yes, yes, that is true. The other was even so. (NOTE: Jarvis is speaking of his dead son, when he says "the other."

-And then he said, like a man with hunger, do you remember?

And because this man was hungry, Kumalo, though he did not well remember, said, I remember."

This passage also illustrates the unique formatting style of this book, without quotation marks. And another quote, after this passage when Jarvis leaves:

"...Kumalo cried after him, Go well, go well.

Indeed there were other things, deep things, that he could have cried, but such a thing is not lightly done."

Paton uses this phrase "not lightly done" several times during the book to point out times when characters may have wanted to break custom or convention and chose not to, or even chose to.

This book was very enjoyable, beautifully written, deep and thought-provoking. I'm very glad I came back to it, as it will rest in my heart for a long time after I've finished it.  Highly recommended.

Next up: Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air!

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