Alan Paton is a South African author, famous for his book Cry, the Beloved Country about the system of racial apartheid that kept South Africa in turmoil for so many years. I see that I’ve never written about Paton’s other novels, Too Late the Phalarope and Ah, But Your Land Is Beautiful.
If you read and enjoyed Cry, the Beloved Country, then Too Late the Phalarope should be next on your list. It’s the story of an Afrikaans (Dutch descent) policeman who finds himself involved in an affair with a black African girl. He is ashamed of his own inability to control himself sexually, but he also carries the false guilt of having broken the racial barriers that were ingrained in South African society (probably still are to some extent). Like Cry, the Beloved Country, the story is a tragedy, but retains some hope. And it’s beautifully written.
In Paton’s third novel, Ah, But Your Land Is Beautiful, he continued to explore the theme of racial injustice and the prison that apartheid had become for both black and white South Africans. Here’s a passage that captures a little of the tone of Paton’s writing, a sort of poetic tragic novel:
“Black man, we are going to shut you off
We are going to set you apart, now and forever.
We mean nothing evil toward you.
You shall have your own place, your own institutions.
Your tribal customs shall flourish unhindered.
You shall lie all day long in the sun if you wish it.
All the things that civilization has stolen
Shall be restored. You shall take wives
Unhindered by our alien prohibitions
Fat-bellied children shall play innocently
Under the wide branching trees of the lush country
Where you yourselves were born.
Boys shall go playing in the reed lagoons
Of far Ingwavuma, the old names
Shall recover old magic, milk and honey
Shall flow in the long-forsaken places.
We mean nothing evil toward you.”
So well-meaning, so patronizing, so ignorant of what can and what cannot be done, and ultimately so very wrong.
Alan Paton is a writer you should read. There are passages in Cry, the Beloved Country that bring tears to my eyes whenever I read them. A writer who can evoke emotion that well and who writes hope in the midst of tragedy is not to be missed.