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Barron's Booknotes-Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton

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CHAPTER 36

It's the fourteenth, and Absalom is to be executed the next dawn. As at other times of crisis in his life, Kumalo is going into the mountains to pray and keep watch, as Jesus sometimes did. Climbing, he meets Jarvis. They talk of the new church, Letsitsi's work, Jarvis' plans to live in Johannesburg, and how much the small boy resembles Arthur. Jarvis understands Kumalo's need to keep watch alone until his son has died. He indirectly tells Kumalo that good has come out of the crime. Until it happened, he was not aware of the greatness of the problems in South Africa. When he did become aware, he still didn't know what he could do. Instead of saying all that, however, all he says to Kumalo is that he was in darkness until they met. Neither man can fully break through the restrictions of a lifetime and tell the other everything he feels.

Kumalo begins his vigil by recalling his sins, especially the cruel lie to John which he was unable to correct. He prays for absolution, and then thanks God for the mysterious way his and Jarvis' pain is being transformed into gladness. He sleeps, and awakens at one in the morning, remembering why he is on the mountain. Like David who cried for his son, "O Absalom, my son, my son" (II Samuel 18:33), Kumalo too cries out, "My son, my son, my son." Again he sleeps, and wakes at four. He faces east and sets out the tea and maize cakes he brought along.



NOTE: THE SACRIFICE OF A SON Kumalo's words and actions are those of the Anglican communion service. He may not be conscious of that, but it's appropriate-the communion service commemorates Jesus' offering himself for humanity. Kumalo's vigil and his willingness to let go of his son also parallel the willingness of Abraham to offer God his only son Isaac. That too occurred on a rock on a mountaintop. In Abraham's case, the son was spared. Isaac later had a son named Jacob who became the founder of an entire people, the twelve tribes of Israel (Genesis 22 and following chapters). Absalom is not spared, but his unborn child may be a son named Peter, and from Peter a new generation of South Africans may grow.

Kumalo takes off his hat as the sun rises. He has lost a son, and so has James Jarvis. But through their losses, they have been enlightened. Kumalo believes that more light will come to lead South Africa out of darkness. The mystery that remains is when the light will come.

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Barron's Booknotes-Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton
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