Dear Readers,

I now consider this blog to be my Juvenelia. Have fun perusing the archives, and find me at my new haunt, here.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Cry the Beloved Country

Fellowette has arrived at the decision that it's mad hard to write about reading the two kinds of books she unoriginally reads...1) the kind that are like so famous and renowned and stuff that they're given the title "classics..." and 2) the kind that hella people are buying and consuming so that they're given the name "bestsellers".

Why so difficult, pray tell? Because, duh, everyone's saying stuff about these tomes already. And I'm not that fucking inventive. It was easier back when I was blogging about being a disgruntled New York City Teaching Fellow and just channeling my experience nurturing the troubled youth of this nation into a sometimes less than sane/coherent but eminently write-able narrative.
Nonetheless, onwards I stride.
On the subject of of youths and nations, the latest classic I read, thanks to my NYPL subscription, is Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Patton. It's one of those books that one knows, from its first paragraph onward, is fully intended to be the author's piece de resistance, his/her statement on a major social problem, a sweeping something that will matter. Like Beloved or A Passage to India, such a novel aims to Speak the Truth as well as tell as story. So it's all the more wonderful when a book like this manages to whisk you into a gripping story and endear you to its characters despite the weightiness of its subject, (in this case, the horrible legacy left by imperialism and the breakup of the tribal structure in South Africa.)
Cry is an uplifting tragedy, if the genre exists, and the undercurrent of universal strife that runs steadily through the story doesn't stop us from acquainting ourselves greedily with a new set of customs and cultures, humor and sorrow... and the rhythm of Patton's english is so different from ours it gives us a sense of place immediately.
The book is about an aging tribal pastor, Stephen Kumalo, and his son Absalom (yep, the name is symbolic) and the tragic events that befal them when they leave their village for the big city of Johannesberg. Absalom falls into a life of thugdom, to use a very modern expression, and his father sets out to follow him. Terrible things follow.

The saddest thing about the story is how much it resonates with today's America, which despite having no explicit institutionalized apartheid, has a deadly legacy of exclusion and legally sanctioned discrimination that it refuses to contend with.

Cry was different from other novels of its kind because of its decidedly hopeful tone despite the horrors it chronicles, and the time and credit it gives to several characters from the white ruling class who have altruistic tendencies. Patton's strong attempt to be honest and almost impartial almost makes the overall effect more devastating. Because despite the kindness of the white characters, Patton puts a critique into the mouth of a young student of agriculture: if they hadn't broken things up to begin with, they wouldn't have to mend them.

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