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Alan Paton PDF Print E-mail

Alan Stewart Paton (1903-1988) was born and educated in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal. He started his career by teaching at a school in Ixopo where he met and married his first wife. The dramatic career change to director of a reformatory for black youths at Diepkloof, near Johannesburg, had a profound effect on his thinking. The publication of Cry, The Beloved Country (1948) made him one of South Africa's best known writers. It is a searing account of the inhumanity of apartheid told in a lyrical voice which emphasises Paton's love for the land and people of South Africa, and his hope for a change in the future. It remains a world bestseller and probably one of the most recognisable titles from this country. Cry, The Beloved Country was later adapted for film and given a musical adaptation in a production entitled “Lost in the Stars”.

Paton became a full-time writer after Cry, The Beloved Country, producing novels (Too late the Phalarope 1953, Ah, But Your Land is Beautiful 1981), two volumes of his autobiography (Towards the Mountain 1980, Journey Continued 1988), short stories and biographies of J.H. Hofmeyr and Bishop Geoffrey Clayton among other writings. Following his non-racial ideals, he helped to found the South African Liberal Party and became its president. He remarried after the death of his first wife and continued living in Durban until his death in 1988.

In 2015, a South African play based on Paton’s life debuted and paid tribute to the late author. "A Voice I Cannot Silence" was nominated for eight Naledi Awards and went on to win three of them. The play has been performed in Durban, Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria.


Selected Work

from Cry, the Beloved Country (1948)

There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them, to Carisbrooke; and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa. About you there is grass and bracken and you may hear the forlorn crying of the titihoya, one of the birds of the veld. Below you is the valley of the Umzimkulu, on its journey from the Drakensberg to the sea; and beyond and behind the river, great hill after great hill; and beyond and behind them, the mountains of Ingeli and East Griqualand.

The grass is rich and matted, you cannot see the soil. It holds the rain and the mist, and they seep into the ground, feeding the streams in every kloof. It is well-tended, and not too many cattle feed upon it; not too many fires burn it, laying bare the soil. Stand unshod upon it, for the ground is holy, being even as it came from the Creator. Keep it, guard it, care for it, for it keeps men, guards men, cares for men. Destroy it and man is destroyed.

Where you stand the grass is rich and matted, you cannot see the soil. But the rich green hills break down. They fall to the valley below, and falling, change their nature. For they grow red and bare; they cannot hold the rain and mist, and the streams are dry in the kloofs. Too many cattle feed upon the grass, and too many fires have burned it. Stand shod upon it, for it is coarse and sharp, and the stones cut under the feet. It is not kept, or guarded, or cared for, it no longer keeps men, guards men, cares for men. The titihoya does not cry here any more.


The great red hills stand desolate, and the earth has torn away like flesh. The lightning flashes over them, the clouds pour down upon them, the dead streams come to life, full of the red blood of the earth. Down in the valleys women scratch the soil that is left, and the maize hardly reaches the height of a man. They are valleys of old men and old women, of mothers and children. The men are away, the young men and the girls are away. The soil cannot keep them any more.

 

Bibliography

1948. Cry, The Beloved Country. Cape Town:  Oxford University Press.
1953. Too Late the Phalarope. New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction.
1961. Debbie, Go Home. London: Penguin Books.
1964. Hofmeyr. Cape Town:  Oxford University Press.
1965. Sponono: A Play in Three Acts. Cape Town:  David Philips Publishers.
1968. Instrument of Thy Peace. London:  Collins/Fontana.
1969. Kontakion for you departed. London:  Jonathon Cape.
1973. Apartheid and the Archbishop: the life and times of Geoffrey Clayton, Archbishop of Cape Town. London:  Jonathon Cape.
1975. Knocking at the door. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
1980. Towards the Mountain. Oxford:  Oxford University Press.
1981. Ah, but your land is beautiful. New York:  Scrhibner Book Company.
1986. Diepkloof: reflections of Diepkloof Reformatory. Cape Town:  David Philips Publishers.
1988. Journey Continued. Oxford;  Oxford University Press.1995. Songs of Africa: collected poems. Durban: Gecko Books.
2008. The Hero of Currie Road. Cape Town:  Umuzi.

Further Reading:

Alexander, Peter.  1994.  Alan Paton:  A Biography.  Oxford:  University of Oxford Press

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