It means so much to me to be reading Cry, the Beloved Country with you.
It's difficult to put words to my feelings about the land and the people of South Africa. I have been there many times, and it is a land I feel deeply bonded to. It's a country of indescribable beauty and drama at the same time that it is a country torn.
The people of South Africa have touched me forever with their irresistible spirit. So many times, I have been moved to tears by the grace and humility of an orphaned child; by the courage and strength of a dying single mother; by the eloquence and fierce pride of a young, barefoot rural school child.
Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa, is my greatest living mentor. His lifelong struggle for his peoples' freedom, his unwavering commitment to truth, and his ability to forgive—even his gentle laughter—are touchstones of inspiration for me.
I am stirred by something ineffable when I go to South Africa. Pride and beauty… suffering and anguish… hope and strength… devastation and fear… faith and forgiveness… black and white. So many human forces come together to shape the dualities and mysteries of South Africa. Those dualities are what Alan Paton has drawn so richly in Cry, the Beloved Country. He tells us, through the eyes of one man, the personal and political story of a nation.
The saga of Stephen Kumalo—his struggle as a father, as a reverend, as a brother and as a man—captures the very essence of South Africa in transition from a rural, tribal nation of spiritual heritage to a modern country of big cities, violence and upheaval. The pain of this transition is burned throughout part one of this novel. Of his own son, Stephen speaks harshly:
"We had a son…we had only one son. He went to Johannesburg, and as you said - when people go to Johannesburg, the do not come back. They do not even write any more. They do not go to St. Chad's to learn that knowledge without which no black man can live. They go to Johannesburg and there they are lost…" (page 39)
This pain goes beyond father and son to the very soul of the people of South Africa. Embarking for Johannesburg from rural Natal in search of his son, and to aid his ill sister, Stephen feels, with all his being, his country's moment in time. He is a man, and his is a country, in the throes of changes he cannot comprehend: