Sunday, 27 November 2016

CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY by Alan Paton

CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY is a classic of South African fiction. It was described by Nadine Gordimer as "the most influential South African novel ever written".

I can't quite understand why. I can only assume it is because the message it gives - that black people in South Africa in the 1940s are unjustly and entirely oppressed - which now seems so obvious, was, at the time it was written, revolutionary.

The book tells the story of a elderly black pastor from the rural areas who goes to Johannesburg to find his son. As is traditional for sons who go to Johannesburg, he has gone to the bad - but badder than most: he has shot a white man in a home invasion, and is sentenced to death. The old man's search for his son, and then the reconciliation he attempts with the father of the murdered white man, gives a picture of the whole of South Africa in one small sad story.

What did surprise me in this book was the account of the scale of the violent crime in South Africa at that time. For some reason, I thought extreme and random violence was a more contemporary problem; but apparently it has been an issue for almost as long as Joburg has been a city
We shall live from day to day, and put more locks on the doors, and get a fine fierce dog when the fine fierce bitch next door has pups, and hold onto our handbags more tenaciously; and the beauty of the trees by night, and the raptures of lovers under the stars, these things we shall forego. We shall forego the coming home drunk and through the midnight streets, and the evening walk over the star-lit veld. We shall be careful, and knock this off our lives, and knock that off our lives, and hedge ourselves about with safety and precaution. And our lives will shrink, but they shall be the lives of superior beings; and we shall live with fear, but at least it will not be a fear of the unknown.

I come from a fairly dangerous city - not a Joburg, but certainly not an Amsterdam; not a city where you walk around after dark; and I never really thought before about the many small choices a society makes over time that end up with a situation where it feels normal to never ever be out after dark without a car wrapped around you

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