Cry, the Beloved Country was first published way back in 1948, but it is never too late to review a good book, and this is undoubtedly one of the best novels of our time. The dust-jacket describes it as ‘a novel with a purpose’, which is true, but it is also a work of art. Mr Paton's prose alone, simple but powerful and intensely moving, places his book in the front rank of contemporary writing. The ‘purpose’ of the novel is to convey to the reader the problems and tensions existing in South Africa, where black and white live in close proximity but mix as much as oil and water.
It is hard for a New Zealander to imagine customs which dictate that white and coloured must use different buses and churches and schools. Such things are happily outside our experience. But Mr Paton makes it plain that in spite of these barriers it is possible for both sides to help each other if only people who care about such matters will find the courage to go against public opinion.
The story takes us from country to city and back again, and tells how the young people are forced to leave a land too weakened by crosion and ignorant farming to support even the remnants of the broken tribes. They exchange the peaceful poverty of their country homes for the violent poverty of a city that neither needs them nor wants them, that cannot house them decently or feed them properly, that ignores them till they break the law then shows them little mercy.
But Mr Paton is too wise a man to pass judgment on either party. His account is analytical but compassionate, emotional but not sentimental, and could only be written by someone who knows the situation as well as he knows his own house. However, the author of a good novel should be primarily concerned with people and relationships, and Mr Paton's success in both his books comes more from his understanding of how people feel and act than from his knowledge of their living conditions. His story of how a father seeks and finds a lost son carries meaning for all age-groups in any nation, whether or not they are interested in South Africa's social problems.
Cry, the Beloved Country is published by Johnathan Cape (9/6).
—J. C. Sturm.
Too Late the Phalarope has much in common with Cry, the Beloved Country: the setting, prose, and purpose are the same. But here Mr Paton concentrates on one particular social law separating white from black—the one forbidding a white man to touch a native woman—and describes the effect it can have on particular people. The result is a novel which does not sweep so wide but penetrates deeper than his first book. The inner conflicts of the main character are reflections of the conflicts of his society, and Mr Paton's detailed and sensitive study of his every wish and feeling and motive is so cleverly done that the reader cannot help identifying himself with the unfortunate man. But it is not just a clever book and it is never smart. Insight and understanding are more necessary in a writer than cleverness or even style. Mr Paton has both these qualities to an extraordinary degree, and when he uses them to the full he can turn a familiar theme into an unforgettable novel.
Too Late the Phalarope is published by Johnathan Cape (10/6).
—J. C. Sturm.
Teach Yourself Maori, by K. T. Harawira, Wellington. A. H. & A. W. Reed. 10/-. (Second edition.)
A second, expanded edition of this book appeared in September last year. Simpler than the well known work by Williams, it has found favour with many students of elementary Maori. The grammatical material is based on the Williams grammar and dictionary, but the examples and exercises are often original and valuable. Mr Harawira is an enthusiastic champion of the beauties of the Maori language and this enthusiasm enlivens his book. He does not pretend to have solved the very tricky questions that lie at the core of Polynesian grammar. This is left for a future investigator.