|Posted on February 17, 2012 at 10:50 AM|
I love reading. I come from a long line of readers. My grandfather on my father’s side read all the time, as do many of my aunts and uncles and cousins. My dad’s brother said once that he reads 150 books a year, and my father probably reads almost that many. All of my three siblings have a solid book collection, and wish for more bookshelf space.
At our house, we have books in every room, including the bathrooms. I usually read several books at once. Currently, I am reading a book about an Indonesian revival in the 1906’s by Mel Tari, 50 Great Short Stories edited by Milton Crane (1952), Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning, Stu Weber’s All the King’s Men, Visions Beyond the Veil by H.A. Baker, and the Bible. I plan to read Romeo Dallaire's eyewitness account of the Rawandan genocide called Shake Hands with the Devil. I suppose I should be disciplined and focus my reading on one book at a time, but what’s the fun in that? With so many books in the world, why not read them in bunches?
When I go to the city, there is really only one store I want to go to: a used bookstore. My wife, being the frugal shopper that she is, regularly shops at Value Village and similar stores. Entering a store that has racks and racks of used clothing stretching off into the distance is almost nightmarish for me. But I have found a solution for my dreaded boredom in used clothing stores: shelves and shelves of used books! So we can shop together in contentment: she finds bargains in the clothing racks, and I find bargains on the bookshelves. I also find used books at garage sales, libraries, our own local second hand bookstore, and my dad’s bookshelves. (I don’t like taking them from my dad because sometimes I have to bring them back.)
All this to say that my reading interests are quite broad. I don’t pretend to be a great book critic, but I have learned to distinguish good writing from bad. Often I read a book and think, “I’ll never read that again.” But occasionally I read one that gets an honoured place in my collection.
Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country (1946) is just such a book. I have rarely read a book that:
Paton served as a principal in a reform school for young offenders in South Africa. In the 1940’s he visited correctional facilities in Scandinavia, Europe, and the United States. During his travels he wrote his seminal novel. The main character in Cry is a black Anglican priest, Stephen Kumalo, who travels from a small village in the backcountry of South Africa to Johannesburg to search for his son and sister. He eventually finds them, but his finding only leads to more heartache. Along the way, he finds people who help, people who hurt, and people who hope.
A remarkable dimension is the deep pain mixed with fresh hope. Few stories that I have read juxtapose the extremes of these emotions. On one hand, the pain is unbearable. How can it be overcome? How can Kumalo go on in the face of the deepest loss? On the other hand, hope is coming from a most unlikely source. From THE most unlikely source. In a drought-torn land, there will be water, there will be healthy soil. The cattle will have grass to eat and the land will support “maize that grows taller than a man”. In other words, there is hope, the old ways can work, but it will take time.
When I finished it, I made the decision that it will become part of our homeschooling curriculum. It is that good. It challenged me to love deeply, fight fearlessly, and hope patiently.
“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 valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.”
Categories: Book Review