Few words could be used to describe this novel and the impact it has made on me. I wish to go back and read it again, immediately following my first reading. I wish to read each word slowly, savor them, taste them. I wish to consider deep and long that of which the author speaks. I wish to gain a deeper understanding of the fear, the sorrow, the anger, the love, the hope, the courage, the compassion, of which Mr. Paton writes with a passion and power that moves me tears.
The plot itself is simple. The story is that of an old South African parson, a Zulu, who finds he must go to Johannesburg to find his son, who is lost. To find his sister, who is lost. To find his brother, who is lost. To find the daughter of his tribesman, who is lost. What he finds, in that great and terrible city, is not what was hoped for. He finds friendship and knowledge and truth, but he also finds deceit and fear and anguish. In the end he returns home, having been able to save only a small portion of those he had left for. He returns home in despair, with more questions than answers. Yet it is here, in his most desperate time of need, that he is uplifted. Uplifted by his tribe, uplifted by God, and uplifted by the most unlikely of friends.
This novel is heartrending in a fashion that no other novel before or after it can hope to achieve. For while it is the story of Stephen Kumalo and his son Absalom, it is written for South Africa. It is written for every man, woman, and child who inhabits this nation - English, Afrikaaner, native Africans, colored (of mixed race, not to be confused with the Africans), and Indian. This novel has awakened something inside me. It has made look deep into my heart and my soul. Yes it is the story of a father and a son, yes it is the story of a nation and a people, but it is also the story of all of us, of all fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, all nations, all races, all people. It is the story of all mankind. "The tragedy is not that things are broken. The tragedy is that they are not mended again."