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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Sunday, February 5, 2017

Only a brave writer could adopt these points of view in 1948 South Africa

The second section of Alan Paton's 1048 Cry, the Beloved Country, is a little heavy-handed, as much of this section concerns the trial of the priest Kumalo's son, charged with murdering Jarvis, a white liberal South African. The problem is, there's not a lot of dramatic tension surrounding this trial, as the accused has confessed to the murder charge and the case is all about the severity of the sentence. There is also a lot of material in this section about the murdered man and about his father, who comes to J-burg to attend the trial; this material culminates when Jarvis sr. finds, and reads, an lengthy essay his son left behind in which he expresses despair at the liberal politics - the proposals to provide better education, wages, and family support for the black African natives. He never quite says so, but it seems as if his thoughts are moving toward a more radical solution - whether a black revolution or some form of popular sovereignty, which of course would (and did) give the black majority control of the government. These were really bold and seemingly unrealistic positions even to suggest from a S. African writer in 1948 - Paton doesn't quite get there, but he gets probably as close as he could without risking exile or worse. But as a novelist, he's in danger of losing control of his narrative, which is becoming increasingly polemical (and melodramatic, as the father of the murdered man and the murderer meet, almost by chance). But after the trial Paton gets back to the human story that is driving this narrative: Kumalo's odyssey through J-burg, has failed attempts to rescue his son and to help his wayward sister, Gertrude. At the end of this section, Kumalo is preparing to return to his village home, bringing his sister and her daughter w/ him, but then there's a twist at the very end of the section (which I won't disclose at this point). The story lives or dies with our engagement with and sympathy or empathy for Kumalo - so honest, so trusting, so ineffectual. Part 3 will obviously be about his journey home, or at least his attempted journey.

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