Sunday, February 26, 2017

“Cry, the Beloved Country,” 1953 book review

Book Reviews from the February 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

Unfortunately, or maybe, fortunately, we are not on the lists that book publishers use for sending out free copies for review. Being members of the working class we are unable to acquire all the books that are published, and very few books when they are first published. Further, being members of the working class, we have limited time for reading. Invariably we wait until we learn something about a book before we give it a scanning and refer to it in these columns. That means that some books are in their second or third, or even later, editions before we get round to them.

Such a book is “Cry, the Beloved Country,” by Alan Paton published by Jonathan Cape at 10s. 6d. This book was first published in 1948 but the recent film of the story has drawn a lot of attention to it.

It is a story of what may be termed the industrial revolution of South Africa. It deals with the final destruction of tribal life among the African negroes and the drawing away of the younger men and women from the rural areas to. the industrial centres where they become wage workers. It emphasises the difficulties that these people experience in adapting themselves to the conditions of a rapidly expanding capitalism and the crimes that follow from their abject poverty.

The story centres mainly in Johannesburg where theft, prostitution, drunkenness, rape, robbery with violence and murder are rife. The author tells us in his introductory note that his story is a compound of truth and fiction. He says that his account of the boycott of the buses, the erection of Shanty Town, the finding of gold at Odendaalsrust and the strike of the miners is such a fiction-truth compound; that in some respects it is not true, but “considered as a social record it is the plain and simple truth.”

The whole theme is worthy of a better approach. The events narrated are viewed through the eyes of a religious humanitarian and the story is plastered with religious quotes and sentiments. There are passages that reveal a clear understanding of the process that is taking place in South Africa, but the idea that permeates the book is that the solution to the negro workers' problems is to be found in a kinder, more Christian and humanitarian approach, especially on the part of the white population. This is overdone and spoils the reading. This is a book worth reading if it should come your way, but it is not worth going out of your way to read it.

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