What was life really like for the athletic, humorous, sometimes "seedy" author of Cry, the Beloved Country? Paton's authorized biographer—who was also a friend of the author—takes us through some of the high (and low) points!
He was a strong athlete.
As a young man, Paton was a formidable athlete, who many times walked 50 or 60 miles in a single day, and then got up early the next morning to play tennis.
He was very social and convivial.
He was a friendly man with a great fund of interesting stories and a very large circle of friends. In later years he would go annually to a cottage in the mountains with a group of other men, and they would perform prodigious feats of drinking. They would sit on the balcony and play a sort of game, throwing their beer cans onto the lawn. The first day the aim was to hit another can. "The second day," Paton would say wryly, "the aim was to avoid hitting another can."
He sometimes looked rather "seedy."
One of Paton's drinking companions told the story of getting up late after one of these sessions, and making his way with Paton down to the river to wash. As they climbed through a fence Paton, who was looking pretty hung over after all the whisky of the night before, said to his companion, "You know, I think I'm like St. Francis of Assisi, because when I speak to the birds, they come and answer me." "No," said his companion, "I don't think that's the reason. I think it's because you're looking so seedy this morning."
His father was a bully.
Alan Paton came from a humble background and recorded that his bullying father sometimes fed him a single piece of cheese for his Sunday dinner and had beaten him regularly, inculcating in him a hatred of authoritarianism.
His first novel sold in droves.
The first edition of Cry, the Beloved Country sold out on the day of its publication, and was hastily reprinted. By April 1948, just three months after its first appearance, the book was in its sixth printing, and the demand showed no sign of slackening. The book sold more than 15 million copies between publication in 1948 and Paton's death in 1988.
He never lost faith in decency.
Alan Paton was a faithful Christian all his life. He hated the power hungry, and he never lost his faith in the decency, the tolerance and the humanity of his fellow South Africans.
Published on September 29, 2003