Friday, February 27, 2009

Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton

A Wycliffe missionary couple lost their oldest son in a car accident a few years ago. That same year they returned to work with a Brazilian Indian tribe. The tribe had been indifferent to Christianity for 15 years, but suddenly many began to turn to God. It was astounding to hear the missionary say, “It was the worst year of my life. And the best year of my life.”

Cry, the Beloved Country is a book that comes close to describing this mysterious relationship between suffering and grace in our world. I’ve had the book for years but never cracked it open till I read Amy’s praise of it at “Hope is the Word” (I’m not linking to her post because it gives too many details). Believe me, it’s better to go into this book completely cold to gain its full impact.

If you like formulaic books with all the loose ends tied up neatly in the end, this book is not for you. It doesn’t even come close to being a “happy” book. Initially I was put off by its sad tone and the irregular language (purposely made to imitate Zulu translated into English). But it is one of the most painfully beautiful books I’ve ever read.

Cry, the Beloved Country is the story of an Anglican priest, Stephen Kumalo, who lives in South Africa in the year 1946. He and his wife live in semi-poverty in the village of Ndotsheni. Their tribe is disintegrating as the young people go to the big city to look for jobs. In the story he goes to Johannesburg to discover what has become of his sister, his brother, and his only son. His search brings many unpleasant surprises and yet there are threads of grace running throughout the narrative. The avalanche of grace at the end of the book is countered by the most painful experience in Kumalo’s life. For the second time in a very few months I wept uncontrollably over the ending of a book. But NOT because of the suffering. I was overcome by the MERCY.

In conversation with Kumalo, one of his friends states, “This world is full of trouble, umfundisi (pastor). “Who knows better than I?” responds Kumalo. “Yet you believe?” queries the other. Kumalo looked at him under the light of the lamp. “I believe he said, but I have learned that it is a secret. Pain and suffering, they are a secret. Kindness and love, they are a secret. But I have learned that kindness and love can pay for pain and suffering. There is my wife, and you, my friend, and these people who welcomed me, and the child who is so eager to be with us here – so in my suffering I can believe. (p.260-261)

I appreciated that men of faith were described realistically with faults and temptations. Yet they were also portrayed as men of integrity and not the dolts of popular media.

This is an amazing book that I will not soon forget!


ibeeeg said...

This is one of the best books I have ever read. It is not an easy book to read but so worth the time! I was a bit put off, as well, by the language and actually put it down until a good friend read it and encouraged me to pick it back up glad I did.
I enjoyed reading your review.
Here is mine, if you are interested.

Ted said...

I remember this being a most touching story.

Carol in Oregon said...

Hope, this is also on my top five books. Very painful, and yet beautiful amidst the pain.

We watched the movie and, though it couldn't come close to the lyricism in the book, it was excellent.