A Bookworm Takes Flight: What I’m Reading Before Visiting South Africa

cabbage patch

Even as a small child, I found books utterly delightful. (Photo taken well over 3 decades ago.)

I was originally going to call this post something like “Traveller’s Book Club”, but then realized the reason I quit my last book club is because I have tremendous difficulty forcing myself to read something that someone else has chosen for me.

We probably all have that problem to some degree, though.

For instance, have you ever read Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton?


Me either.

But I sure remember a lot of older kids complaining about this book on the bus on the way home from school.  I don’t remember their specific complaints, but I think it probably boiled down to the fact that they just didn’t like this book because THEY hadn’t chosen it.

I guess I’m not so different, because I tend to avoid books that are assigned or suggested to me.  It’s like it’s subconscious or something.

Andrew tells me he read Cry, the Beloved Country during his school years, but I’m guessing he must not have been one of the complainers, because now he has purchased the paperback edition for 50 cents at a local book faire, and suggested I read it.

Why should I read Cry, the Beloved Country now?



Like really, WOW.  We’ve never visited any country on the continent of Africa.

So, that having been said… you know what time it is…!


*applause*  *cheer*

Yes I know!  Learning is awesome!

I mean sometimes — okay fine OFTENtimes — learning makes my brain hurt, so I go watch some Modern Family episodes ’til I feel better.

But overall, I love learning and being challenged.  And travel is a highly effective way to delve into the world of learning and being challenged.

And so, we try to read books by authors from the countries we’re planning to visit.  When Andrew suggested I read Cry, the Beloved Country, I responded thusly:

E:  Isn’t that about wolves in Canada’s north, like Call of the Wild or White Fang?

A:  Good grief!  Alan Paton isn’t the same person as Jack London.

E:  I honestly thought Jack London wrote Cry, the Beloved Country.  Or maybe a Jack London rip-off.

A:  No!  They have nothing to do with each other!  Alan Paton was from South Africa, and the book’s ABOUT South Africa.

E:  I had no idea.

A:  You have some reading to do.

Side-note:  Why do all our conversations end with those six words?  “You have some reading to do.”  Oh, but that’s just one of the MANY things I love about Andrew.  *happy sigh*

And so, with my former schoolmates’ complaints about Cry, the Beloved Country echoing in my head, I willed myself to take the book my husband was handing me, smile, and march off to the sofa to get started on my assigned reading.

And that’s when something amazing happened — I became immersed in the story.  I began to learn.

Though I’ll have to admit that at this point, I’m not qualified to really discuss the book at all.  I’m only halfway through.  I’ve been delayed, because I keep interrupting myself in order to read passages out loud to Andrew, with great enthusiasm.  I’ve been declaring things like this:

“Why on earth were kids complaining about this book?  This book is IMPORTANT.  Not just for South Africans, but for everyone living in a country with a colonial history.  This book is important for CANADIANS to read!  No wonder they were teaching it in schools!  It just sucks that kids hated it.  How could kids hate this?  It’s so sensitive and insightful!”  (Wait — I think I’ve just answered my own question…)

Okay but really!  Check out this beautiful passage:

Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear.  Let him not love the earth too deeply.  Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire.  Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley.  For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.

I’m not sure how to respond to the beautiful, tragic truth in these words, other than to blink away the tears.  Fear keeps us from loving and respecting each other and our world.

Another passage that resonates with me today, even right here (but also gives background to the situation in 1950’s South Africa):

There are voices crying what must be done, a hundred, a thousand voices.  But what do they help if one seeks for counsel, for one cries this, and one cries that, and another cries something that is neither this nor that.

Everyone knows that something must be done… but everyone has a different idea as to what, and how, and when, and the people become divided.  Politics.

Ooh and this:

The sun pounds down on the earth, on the lovely land that man cannot enjoy.  He knows only the fear of his heart.

I think this applies to all of us, in some way.  And it’s tragic.  Different kinds of fear… but even if it’s just FOMO as the result of social media addiction, it’s still a fear that prevents our enjoyment of this world.

And this:

It is good for the Government, they say in Johannesburg, that Msimangu preaches of a world not made by hands, for he touches people at the hearts, and sends them marching to heaven instead of to Pretoria.

Ooh.  I feel like the significance of this is obvious, as Pretoria is the political capital of South Africa.  I find it profound, the idea that the 1950’s South African government loved religion because it focused those they were repressing on a world apart from this one, it distracted them, and allowed them to continue with the status quo.  It prevented action.  Directed attention elsewhere.

Anyhow!  Like I said, I’m only halfway though the book.  Apparently it concludes on a hopeful note, so we’ll see.

In the meantime, I’ll just say that reading literature by writers from the countries you intend to visit adds a deeper level of significance to the travel experience.

And now, if you’ll excuse me… I have the second half of a novel to finish, before hopping on that plane to South Africa…


Photo taken 5 minutes ago.


7 responses to “A Bookworm Takes Flight: What I’m Reading Before Visiting South Africa

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