Friday, April 8, 2011

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

Gorgeous, lyric, Cry, the Beloved Country published in 1948 has a narrative pull seemingly drawn from both the clarity of the storytelling and the complexity of its subject matter--black struggle in the time of apartheid in South Africa--but also from the strength of its characters and the simultaneous simplicity and depth of the often lyric writing. An old Zulu pastor, Stephen Kumalo, leaves his village Ndotsheni (peopled only by old men and old women, children and babies, for the men have all left, to work and live in the mining compounds or in shanty towns in Johannesburg) in search of his son, whom he discovers ultimately has just committed the unspeakable, the murder of a young white man in Johannesburg, a man, moreover, who has been working for justice for the blacks, and who is the son of the white farmer who owns the arable land above their village. In his search he encounters people, both black and white, who offer him friendship and sustenance; in his turn, he makes his own rescues, offering a home to his "gone-to-the bad" sister and her child, and to the pregnant girlfriend of his son. Jarvis, the father of the slain man, undergoes his own transformations as he comes to understand his dead son through his writings, and begins to work possibly in his memory to help the people of the village, Ndotsheni.

The story is about allegiance, community, and friendship but also about betrayal, as Kumalo's son is abandoned by his accomplices on their arrest, and compelled to face his trial alone. Kumalo too is abandoned by his brother in this, for his son was one of the accomplices--the brother, a public speaker and open critic of the white use and exploitation of black labor, thereby displaying an interesting underside to his character. The whole issue of black crime being examined though, as an offshoot of white treatment of blacks--the forced segregations, the breaking of the tribe and the family--and the various plausible reactions within it--Absalom's fear and confession, his friends' lies, the white court's conviction of Absalom and the levying of the ultimate sentence, amid the backdrop of the unsuccessful mining strikes, the white managers' fear and tight control, the fear the white residents have of the "natives"--offered as part of the spectrum of inequity dominant in the country's narrative. Echoes of Native Son (Richard Wright) in storyline and dramatic center.

Underlying it all is the beauty of the country and its landscapes, a desolate beauty for the people who live in it are suffering. Some of the most beautiful passages in the book arise from the intermittently-used omniscient voice speaking as if to the country, and speaking out of its witness. I liked especially the book's structure and its shifting use of perspective, particularly its striking, unusual use of the larger omniscient addressing stark realities in South Africa interspersed with the more intimate limited-omniscient hovering chiefly over Kumalo and Jarvis, but I was also compelled by the iambic, almost-biblical (Old Testament) tone and rhythm and meter to the narrative.

From its mystical opening: " There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it" to the rise and return of the omniscient voice with its powerful words: "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," the language in the book, born of voice, drives the narrative and keeps you deep in the center of the story.

Intense and moving character portrayal too; the characters of Kumalo and Jarvis feel tangible by the end of the book. The novel has been widely celebrated and lavishly praised and made into a movie, available in audio, etc.  Highly recommended. Makes me want to go read all of Alan Paton's other work now...

Friday, January 14, 2011

And the Winners Are...

Thank you again, all of you who entered the Authorbuzz book giveaway and sent me your notes, well-wishes, and emails with fascinating ghost stories of your own. Thanks especially for waiting, since I found myself first wrapped up in schoolwork, then needing to finish school work, then rushing to do last-minute Christmassy things for my daughter. I'm coming out of all the fogs now! and hoping to become a better blogger this year -- so stay tuned!

Meanwhile, congratulations! to the 6 winners of a copy of Temporary Lives: Glendel Williams, Virginia Campbell, Mari Rusk, Victoria Guardado, Joan Bendall, and Fran Pyeatt.

Not everyone sent in a ghost story but everyone's names were entered in the drawing anyway. The stories you sent were variously brief or detailed, several intriguing and compelling. Only one librarian sent in her story, and it's a fascinating one (see below). Thank you too, those of you who entered but unfortunately didn't win a copy--I would love to be able to send you all copies, I wish I could afford to! I do hope it won't stop you from getting a copy of Temporary Lives in some other fashion, maybe from your library, and reading it anyway!

With their prior permission, I post the winners' stories below--enjoy!

"When I was about ten years old, I woke up one night and saw this pretty woman standing by my bed, smiling down at me.  I looked at her and noticed that I could see the wall through her body.  I saw that she had a blue dress on, but it was transparent, too.  I felt no fear, no animosity.  She was smiling kindly.  I just turned over then and went back to sleep.  The next morning, I described this lady to my mom and she said it  must have been my aunt, her sister, who had been shot in a hunting accident a few months before I was born.   The woman's dress and hair that I described were exactly the same as my aunt's when she was buried.  I never saw the lady again."-- Glendel Williams, Parsons, KS

"I have lived in the same house for over 30 years. My mother and I owned the house together. She passed away several years ago. I have had many paranormal experiences in my home, both before and after my mother passed away. The first experience was to glance over at a living room window late one night and see the "Scream" face looking in! I rushed to the door and turned on the front porch light, and not a "soul" was about! Another time, on Halloween night, I heard distinct footsteps on the wooden floor of the upstairs hallway. My mother and I were both downstairs and no other "human" was in the house. One night, I went upstairs to my room without turning on the stairway light. When I got to the doorway of my room, a large misty shape moved from the area of the doorway and went across the room and out the window. One bright Sunday morning, I had overslept, which is a rare occurrence. A voice from the doorway of my room said: "Are you getting up?". I looked over through sleep-filled eyes and saw the blurred image of a large friendly blonde woman dressed in red and royal blue. I answered, and then realized it wasn't my mother! The "woman" was twice the size of my mother (who was actually downstairs in the kitchen). Since my mother passed away, I have noticed unusual scents in the house. I have smelled my grandfather's pipe tobacco, my grandmother's lily of the valley, and my mother's fingernail polish remover. All of these people are deceased, and none of those items are in the house! The time that I was the most afraid was when I came home to find my house almost in a vacuum state. There seemed to be no air, no sound, and no smell of any kind in the house. My cats were in hiding. I don't know what had been in the house, but it had some kind of mojo!" -- Virginia Campbell, Clifton Forge, VA

"I've had several types of questionable experiences with something present.
My neighbor's house was for sale and they were selling his furnishings.  I didn’t know anything about why his house was for sale, but I definitely felt " a presence".  I had met him a couple of times.  But I was amazed that everything in his house was for sale.  I asked the person representing the house why "ALL" his stuff was for sale?? She said he had died, and I immediately knew he died at home.  I could feel his presence!  I felt so sad the whole time we were in there, I couldn't explain it. Then I learned he had committed suicide, probably from insulin, because he was losing his eyesight.  He was very high up in his company and lived alone.  I felt even more sad that I hadn't known and could have offered some assistance. Would it have made a difference?

Another time, I work in a hospital, and at night--my co-worker and I heard all this furniture moving upstairs.  We knew they were remodeling the floor above us, but NOT AT NIGHT!  We had Security go up there, but no one was there!" -- Mari Rusk, Maple Grove, MN

"My 17-year-old son Manuel was shot and killed 12 days before Christmas 1998.  3 months later, I was sitting on the couch and all of the windows were closed in my apartment. All of a sudden, a breeze that smelled of my son rushed past me and I knew that he had come to visit me." --Victoria Guardado, Anaheim, CA

"I work as a librarian at the Sullivan County Library system in Tennessee.  At one point, I was the assistant librarian at our Bloomingdale branch in Kingsport, TN.  Our head librarian there worked at the branch for well over 20 years and besides church, it was pretty much the whole focus of her life (she was not married and had no children).  While I worked with her, she developed a brain tumor and passed away.  After her death, there were several instances, when I am sure that I saw her ghost at the library.  One time I was standing before the bathroom mirror washing my hands and I saw just a glance of her in the mirror as she passed behind me.  Another time I could swear I saw her sitting in her chair behind the checkout counter.  Our cleaning lady was sure that her ghost was knocking books off the shelf while she cleaned.  Another time, I was in the bathroom and I sensed her presence, so I just said out loud, "Janice, just let me go to the bathroom in peace!"  After I spoke, I sensed that she left the room." -- Fran Pyeatt, Kingsport, TN