Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cry, the Beloved Country

This the first, and perhaps the only, book that I first read in high school English and thoroughly enjoyed. This story of a South African black preacher, a white farmer and their sons tugged at my heart with its mournful, lyrical prose.
The pastor, or umfundisi, Stephan Kumalo, watches with resignation as his relatives leave their valley for the great city of Johannesburg. When a letter arrives telling of his sister's illness, Kumalo leaves for Johannesburg. Overwelmed by its noise and the massive crowds, he is shocked to find his sister had lived as a prostitute. But a deeper sorrow is yet to come when he learns of what his son, Absalom, has done.
From the first time I read of Kumalo's son, the name seemed to foreshadow some tragedy and death. Without spoiling the ending, I will say that Stephan's heart cries the refrain of David in II Samuel 18, "Oh, my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you--oh Absalom, my son, my son!"
While I perfer fantasy books, this story carried the fantasy quality of transporting me to another place. I forgot about the classroom and my runny nose, caught up in the grief of two fathers over the loss of their sons. This is a book that could be placed in a time capsule for the 1940s.
Although the story highlights the unjustice of South Africa at the time, one phrase from Kumalo's prayer summerizes the cry of the story, "Forgive us all, for we all have trespasses."

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