History: Cry, The Beloved Country was written before the implementation of the apartheid political system in South Africa. The novel was published in New York in 1948, with apartheid becoming law later that same year.
It enjoyed critical success around the world, except in South Africa, where it was banned, due to its politically contentious material. The book sold over 15 million copies around the world before Paton's death.
Plot: The novel opens in a small village in Ixopo (Ndotsheni), where the black pastor Stephen Kumalo receives a letter from the priest Theophilus Msimangu in Johannesburg. Msimangu urges Kumalo to come to the city to help his sister Gertrude, because she is ill. Kumalo goes to Johannesburg to help Gertrude and to find his son Absalom, who had gone to the city to look for Gertrude but never came home. When he gets to the city, Kumalo learns that Gertrude has taken up a life of prostitution and beer brewing, and is now drinking heavily. She agrees to return to the village with her young son. Kumalo embarks on the search for his son, first seeing his brother John, a carpenter who has become involved in the politics of South Africa. Kumalo and Msimangu follow Absalom's trail only to learn that Absalom has been in a reformatory and impregnated a young woman. Shortly thereafter, Kumalo learns that his son has been arrested for the murder during a burglary of Arthur Jarvis (who was an engineer), a white activist for racial justice and son of Kumalo's neighbour James Jarvis.
Jarvis learns of his son's death and comes with his family to Johannesburg. Jarvis and his son had been distant, and now the father begins to know his son through his writings. Through reading his son's essays, Jarvis decides to take up his son's work on behalf of South Africa's black population.
Absalom is sentenced to death for the murder of Arthur Jarvis. Before his father returns to Ndotsheni, Absalom marries the girl who is carrying his child, and she joins Kumalo's family. Kumalo returns to his village with his daughter-in-law and nephew, having found that Gertrude ran away on the night before their departure.
Back in Ixopo, Kumalo makes a futile visit to the tribe's chief in order to discuss changes that must be made to help the barren village. Help arrives, however, when James Jarvis becomes involved in the work. He arranges to have a dam built and hires an native agricultural demonstrator to implement new farming methods.
The novel ends on the morning (the sun rise) after Absalom's execution. This story is regarded as one of the saddest and most bitter novels of Ndotsheni.
Review: Paton describes South Africa - the beloved country - as a land fractured with hatred. The disenfranchised blacks carry out violent crimes against the whites, plunging Johannesburg into fear. The whites are at a loss as to what to do. Throughout his narrative, Paton describes so vividly the problems that plagued South Africa during the apartheid era that the reader is left completely disillusioned. But, using the story of Reverend Kumalo as a symbol for the restoration of South Africa, Paton shows there is still hope. For while fear may be a powerful emotion, love is yet more powerful: love holds the power to heal the people's deep-set wounds.
Opening Line: “There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills.”
Closing Line: “But when the dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret.”
Quotes: "Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much."