Friday, January 11, 2013

Alan Paton wrote Cry, The Beloved Country

Alan Paton
It is the birthday of South African writer Alan Paton (1903), whose best known novel, Cry, The Beloved Country (1948), brought international attention to the problems in South African society that led to apartheid. Published just before that system of racial segregation was established in the country, the book sought to raise awareness of the breakdown of the tribal system, destruction of native lands, native crime, and other conditions that resulted in national legislation relegating South African black natives to the status of non-citizens.

The book was a bestseller, with some 15 million copies in print. Paton had been working as principal of a reform school for African boys when he was writing the novel. The book's success gave him the financial freedom to leave his job and devote full time to writing.

Cry, The Beloved Country was adapted for film twice, first in 1951 (starring Canada Lee) and then in 1995 (starring James Earl Jones). Composer Kurt Weill and playwright Maxwell Anderson collaborated on the Broadway production Lost in the Stars, based on Paton's book. 

Paton became an anti-apartheid activist and helped found the Liberal Party of South Africa to try to stop apartheid. He served as the party's president until 1968, when the organization was dissolved by law. In 1960, Paton traveled to New York to receive the Freedom Award. When he returned, authorities confiscated his passport and didn't return it for 10 years.

Paton also wrote Too Late the Phalarope (1953), a novel about  an Afrikaner policeman' crisis of conscience; Hofmeyr (1964), a profile of a prominent South African statesman; Towards  the Mountain (1980), the first volume of his autobiography; Ah, But Your Land is Beautiful (1981), a fictional story based on his political activist years; and Journey Continued (1988), the second volume of his autobiography, which was published after his death.

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