I discovered this book at the Goodwill a few years ago. To be honest, the only reason I picked it up was because it was an old book set in South Africa. I’m a sucker for classics set in places I don’t know much about.
And let me just say, I was not disappointed!
Page Count: 283
Synopsis: Set on the eve of apartheid, this book documents Zulu minister Stephen Kumalo as he travels to Johannesburg to find his son Absalom. There, he meets many individuals and sees the shifting of South African society. In this provoking story of hope and disappointment, Alan Paton, who was anti-apartheid, takes the reader on a journey into the shifting views of South African in the 1940s.
I feel like I’m going to gush so much about this book, because I enjoyed it so much! The detailed picture of South Africa on the eve of apartheid which Paton painted was just perfect! The characters were all interesting, and no one was simply painted black or white (both literally or metaphorically). Even if you could see certain actions done (like by Absalom) as being evil, people themselves were all understandable. Kumalo was an exceptional protagonist. He’s such a good person, despite everything he goes through in the book. Even seeing his world crumble, he still has such hope for the future. Saying that, the one and only criticism I have for this book is that there is no typical dialogue with quotation marks. Instead, merely a dash is the start of dialogue. It was quite disconcerting at first and this book was much easier to read once I shifted over to audiobook.
One of my biggest reasons I enjoyed this book is, unfortunately a spoiler. So, quickly…
Spoilers for the next paragraph!
Kumalo searches for his son for the first half of the book. Unfortunately, when he finds him, Absalom is in jail for killing a white man. Absalom and two of his friends broke into a white man’s house, knocking out his servant and hoping to steal money. They didn’t know the white owner was home and Absalom, in surprise, shot the man dead. For his crime, Absalom is executed. It is an interesting commentary on whether Absalom would have been executed if he had been a white man killing a black man. But anyway, in the end of the book, the white man’s father and Kumalo become good friends. I love this twist because, despite how they both lost their sons, they have such hope for the future.
Okay, spoilers done.
Besides the strange choice of dialogue formatting (I know it’s an artistic choice, but I didn’t like it), I honestly don’t have anything bad to say about this book.
It’s quite short and the audiobook is only about 8 hours long (which takes me 4 hours, listening to it at double speed). It is also quite quotable. Here’s a few quotes I loved: “The tragedy is not that things are broken. The tragedy is that things are not mended again,” “The truth is, our civilization is not Christian; it is a tragic compound of great ideal and fearful practice, of loving charity and fearful clutching of possessions,” “For it is the dawn that has come, as it has come for a thousand centuries, never failing.”
And that’s just a few great examples. You could probably quote 80% of random sentences in this book and it still be profound!
Have you heard of this book? Does it look interesting to you? Have you read any other great African classics? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, thank you so much for reading, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,