Hear a Book, See a Country

When it comes to books, I’m pretty much a traditionalist. No Kindle for me. I’ve maybe read two or three books digitally because that was the only way they were available, but for the most part I want a printed book in hand.

I had never tried listening to a book, but the idea occurred to me as during the pandemic my eyes have sometimes felt strained or tired. Sitting at home I’m reading from a screen or book for a good part of my day. So I decided to try Audible. They offer a low cost subscription with a limited number of choices which is a good way to try it out. Those choices include a lot of classics and I chose as my first audiobook Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton.

Cry, the Beloved Country book cover

This is perhaps the most famous novel ever to come out of South Africa. It is, of course, about race. It’s also about the disintegration of tribal society, urbanization, exploitation of the country’s national resources and its human resources. It’s about income inequality, housing inequality, educational inequality and just about any other type of inequality you can think of.

The book was written in 1948. That is before apartheid, but certainly not before racism and segregation. That seems to have arrived with the first Europeans. Paton, who is a white man, does a pretty good job of expressing the viewpoint of different races, social groups and generations.

The story is told through the eyes of two men from a rural area whose sons find their way to Johannesburg. One is a Zulu pastor. His son is involved in a botched house robbery during which he accidentally shoots the son of the other man, who is literally the white man who lives up on the hill. Without spoiling the story, I can say that both of these men overcome their adversity and rise above their situation.

Having listened to this book, rather than read it, you’ll notice I make no attempt to spell the names of the people or places. Perhaps one advantage of having a book read to you is you don’t have to struggle with pronunciations while you are reading. 

Cry, the Beloved Country is old, more than 70 years now. The language is a bit dated and somewhat formal. But Paton’s book has remained relevant through all these decades because it’s a history that still helps to understand South Africa. I was only in the country for about 10 days several years ago but it was the most interesting places I’ve ever been. It is also beautiful and full of warm, friendly people. I am, however, afraid that some of the issues in Cry, the Beloved Country are not so different today.

As for Audible, it surpassed my expectations. I originally thought of it as something I would listen to for an hour or so before going to bed. I did that. My concentration wasn’t as good as it would be if I were reading, I did find my thoughts drifting off from time to time and once I nodded out and had to backtrack a chapter. But I also listened on headphones at the gym and it made my workout time seem to go faster. Also listened in the car and found it surprisingly engaging, to the point where one time I sat in my driveway continuing to listen for a bit. So I’m ready to try another.

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5 Responses to Hear a Book, See a Country

  1. Donna Janke says:

    The only time I’ve listened to audio books has been on road trips. My husband and I tried listening to some on the several-day trip to and from Arizona back when we used to spend part of the winter there. We found the light-hearted books easier to listen to. We started one by a favourite mystery writer, but found the plot too complex to properly concentrate on at the same time as concentrating on the road. I would consider listening to more audio books in other circumstances.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have an audio of Sissy Spacek reading “To Kill A Mockingbird” that is the most wonderful thing … I listen to it driving every summer. It’s like having a friend in the passenger’s seat telling you a story.

    (I admit, I have a kindle and I’ve grown to love it … I can toss it in my bag and have my books with me wherever I am. Older books, written in the patois of the time, are particularly kindle-friendly … where the dictionary is just a finger-touch away to explain what a certain piece of clothing is or a certain turn of phrase. But, it does lack the back-and-forth page-turning nature of a real book, so some books are best read as book-books!)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m a fan of traditional books too. I stare at screens more than enough already.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Last year, I read Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, so I knew I would be seeking out further reading about South Africa. Thanks for reminding me about this book.

    It took me a long time to choose a Kindle and ebooks, but now I am addicted. Don’t get me wrong–my shelves still hold hardbacks & paperbacks. But the joy of being able to download a library book at 2a.m. when I can’t sleep–that’s just awesome.

    Have fun with Audible!


  5. I like paperback books, but I buy more eBooks because cheaper.

    Liked by 1 person

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