Dear Mr. Paton,
Have you ever wondered what it was like to live in a different place in a different time? I thought that the stories of South Africa during the 1940's couldn't be true, it just didn't make sense in my mind how there could be so many desperate people leading miserable lives in a place that was originally so beautiful and joyous. I thought that even if there would always be sad people who just didn't belong, the people whose lives were filled with happiness would outnumber them, and perhaps help the people less fortunate. I was wrong, and my view of South Africa changed dramatically after I read the novel Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton.
When I first started reading this book, I didn't quite understand it. It was in a foreign place, with different characters. I had to learn about the history and geography before I could fully grasp what was going on in the story. After I did that, however, everything made sense and I could relate to the characters and what they were going through.
When I read about the segregation and prejudice against Africans, in their own country, I felt overwhelmed with anger. How could somebody treat another human being with such hate? The worst part is that the Africans couldn't do anything about it without being arrested. This was one of the points that really stood out when I read this, and I think a lot of people now have a much clearer image of what South Africa went through during apartheid.
After I read about what Stephen Kumalo did for his son Absalom, I was amazed. I know that it must be extremely hard to leave your home in search of your only child, only to find out that he had committed a terrible crime. I thought that Stephen Kumalo had a lot of faith in God, and even though it was a difficult time for him, he got through on his faith. If I had been in his shoes, I doubt that I would have been able to maintain myself for a period of time that long, and hold myself together when I looked at what my people, my family, and my land were going through.
I think that Absalom Kumalo was also very brave. I believe he was only considered an adult because of his age, and in reality he was just a scared little boy who realized that he had made a mistake. Everyone has made a mistake at some point or another, but it was Absalom who made the big one, and he was the one who had to take the blame of his companions as well as himself. Can you imagine a child being killed only because they had one screw-up in their life, and there wasn't anything they could possibly do to right themselves? That's how it was with Absalom. He may have killed someone, but it was not an intended murder, and it hurt me to see a boy who had to go through all of that.
This book really changed my views of the people who live in other countries, and I am really glad that I got the chance to read it and learn from it. I felt many emotions while I was reading this, and I can understand now why it is viewed as a classic literary piece of art.
Romig Middle School, Anchorage, Alaska
Teacher: Jennifer Keil