Alan Paton never won a Nobel Prize for Cry, the Beloved Country, his landmark 1948 novel about a Zulu minister who learns that his son has murdered the son of a white man. But his book may have had a greater impact on the struggle for racial justice in South Africa than any by Nadine Gordimer, who did win. And it has had a strong readership in the U.S. for six decades, bolstered by two movie versions and its selection for Oprah’s Book Club in 2003.
Why was Cry, the Beloved Country so important? Here’s an answer from Doris Lessing, the novelist and 2007 Nobel laureate in literature, who was born in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and wrote another book critical of South Africa, The Grass Is Singing, that appeared soon after Paton’s:
“What you have to remember is that the whole of southern Africa was seen as a very happy, fun place full of satisfied blacks…. Cry, the Beloved Country destroyed that vision. Then along came The Grass Is Singing, which helped to break it down even more.”
Doris Lessing as quoted by Emily Parker in “Provocateur” in the Weekend Interview with Doris Lessing, The Wall Street Journal, March 15-16, 2008.
Read a biography of Paton at
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.