Debate on the quality of books which had flooded local bookshop is yet to be tickled with Nairobi International book fair with as.
According to critics majority of younger writer don’t read other writers work with the major objective of improving and ends up producing books which cannot make it to both local and international scene because they luck both creativity and originality.
Nigerians and South Africa writers had been able to make impact on both local and international scene because of there originality of reflect African way of traditions and story telling.
One of the great classic of our time is CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY which may be longer remembered than any other novel of 1948, but not because it fits into any pattern of the modern novel. It stands by itself; it creates rather than follows a tradition. It is at once unashamedly innocent and subtly sophisticated. It is a story; is a prophecy; it is a psalm. It is passionately African, as no book before it had been; it is universal. It has in it elements of autobiography; yet it is selfless.
Let the reader discover the story for himself. Alan Paton tells something of its pre-publication history in his own author’s introduction. The rest is still living history. In the United States, where it first saw print, the book had a small advance sale—33oo copies. It had no book-club fanfare in advance of publication; it never reached the top of the bestseller lists. But it made its way. People discovered it for themselves. They are still discovering it.
The book which traces South Africa history is example of the role played by writers in recording both myth and history of a given society and that is what my dear Kenyans younger writers should be doing instead of producing touristic kinds of work
Even after being set book in our Schools upcoming writers seems not to be changing there artistic approach.
In South Africa it had a fantastic success. In that country of barely two million whites and nearly ten million mostly illiterate blacks, its present sale of thirty-odd thousand copies is the equivalent of a sale of more than two million copies in the United States. No other book in South African history ever stirred such an overwhelming response—and the aftermath of this response in the South African conscience is still to be written.
Alan Paton himself is a native son of South Africa, born in Pietermaritzburg in the east coast province of Natal in 1903. His father, a Scots Presbyterian and something of a poet, went out to South Africa as a civil servant just before the Boer War; his mother, though of English stock, was a third-generation South African. Alan Paton’s entire schooling was South African. At college in Pietermaritzburg, he specialized in science and in off hours he wrote poetry. Until the European-American trip on which Cry, the Beloved Country came spilling out of his sub consciousness, he had been out of South Africa only once—at twenty-one, when he attended an Empire Students Conference in London, and followed that with a motorcycle trip through England and Scotland.
Just out of college, he wrote two novels—and almost immediately destroyed the manuscripts. He wrote some poetry. In his middle years he wrote serious essays—much such essays as Arthur Jarvis writes in the novel—for liberal South African magazines. It was life, rather than literature, which prepared Paton to write Cry, the Beloved Country.
After college Alan Paton taught in good schools—schools established for the sons of the rich, white minority in South Africa. One of them was in Ixopo (in Natal), in those grass- covered hills lovely beyond any singing of it, where the titihoya, the bird of the veld, sings in his book. It was there that he met Dorrie Francis, the girl he married, the mother of his two South-African schooled sons. She is also a born South African. Then he went to teach in Pietermaritzburg, and there, when he was about thirty, he suffered a severe attack of enteric fever. His illness gave him time to think. He did not, he decided, want to make a life career of teaching the sons of the rich.
South Africa was in one of its periods of fermenting change in 1934. One of the new reforms transferred all correctional institutions for young people under twenty-one from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of Education, and the Minister of Education at that time was one of South Africa’s great men, Jan Hofmeyr. Had he lived, Hofmeyr might have succeeded to General Smuts’ mantle (he became Deputy Prime Minister in z 939) and perhaps have changed the recent course of South African history. A Boer who dared to tell his fellow Afrikaners that they must give up “thinking with the blood,” must “maintain the essential value of human personality as something independent of race or color,” must supplant fear with faith, Hofmeyr was one of Alan Paton’s heroes; as a boy Paton had gone camping with him. Later, the South African edition of Cry, the Beloved Country, was dedicated to Jan Hofmeyr; it appeared three months before Hofmeyr’s death. And the only poem which Alan Paton has published since his college days was a poem on the death of Hofmeyr.
So, recovering from his fever, Alan Paton wrote to Hofmeyr asking for a job. Somewhat to his horror, he got it—. as principal of Diepkloof Reformatory, a huge prison school for delinquent black boys, set up in a sort of barbed-wire stockade on the edge of South Africa’s greatest city, Johannesburg. It was a penitentiary, a place of locked cells and of despair. In ten years, under Hofmeyr’s inspiring leadership, Alan Paton transformed the place. The barbed-wire vanished and gardens of geraniums took its place; the bars were torn down; the whole atmosphere changed. Some of these boys made good; and some, like Absalom in Cry, the Beloved Country, did not. You will find suggestions of Diepkloof in Alan Paton’s novel, and there is a little of Paton himself in the anonymous young white man at the school, as well as in the character of Arthur Jarvis.
The “experiment” lasted more than ten years, a fertile interval, though Paton himself calls it a “period of aridity” in his literary life. He wrote serious articles but no poetry or fiction. Out of the experiment grew Paton’s prison-study trip to Scandinavia, England and America which bore such unexpected fruit in Cry, the Beloved Country. Paton felt so profoundly that he needed a change that he sold his life insurance policies to finance the trip away from Africa.
In Sweden Paton read and was moved by John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Possibly the reading of that novel turned his mind back to his earlier interest in creative writing. He had at first no plan to write a novel of his own. But, not speaking Swede passed many nights alone in Ins hotel; and, as in his bout with enteric fever, he had time to think and wonder. One dark afternoon a friendly stranger took him to see the rose window in the cathedral of Trondheim by torchlight. That somberly glowing experience set the mood. Pawn returned to his hotel, sat down at a desk and between five and seven, the whole first chapter of his novel poured out. He did not yet know what the rest of the story was to be. The theme was clear—he had been living it. The story seemed to form itself as he travelled. Parts were written in Stockholm, Trondheim, Oslo, London, and all the way across the United States; it was finished in San Francisco.
Then Paton went home to South Africa, and the book followed him, and changed his life. The next chapter in his life, it is safe to say, will involve more writing, and South Africa. It might involve him in an effort to recall South Africa to the vision of Jan Hofmeyr.
When Alan Paton flew to New York, in October, 1949, to see “Lost in the Stars,” the musical play Maxwell Anderson wrote upon themes from Cry, the Beloved Country, lie spoke to a Book and Author luncheon upon the South African background of his novel. It was an eloquent and revealing profession of faith. To attempt to condense or paraphrase it would be foolish, so, with a few modifications made with Mr. Paton’s consent, I quote it at length.
“I was born,” he said, “in that country known as the Union of South Africa. The heart of it is a great interior plateau that falls on all sides to the sea. But when one thinks of it and remembers it, one is aware not only of mountains and valleys, not only of the wide rolling stretches of the veld, but of solemn and deep undertones that have nothing to do with any mountain or any valley, but have to do with men. By some these are but vaguely heard and dimly understood; but for others they are never silent, they become ever more obtrusive and dominant, till the stretch of the sky and veld is nothing more than the backdrop against which is being played a great human drama in which I am deeply involved, my wife and my children, all men and their wives and children, of all colors and tongues, in which all Africa is involved, and all humanity and the world. For no country is an island, of itself entire.
“There are eleven to twelve million people in the Union of South Africa. Of these only two and one-half million are white, three-fifths of these being Afrikaans-speaking, two fifths English-speaking. There are one million of what we call ‘colored’ people, the descendants of the racial mixture which took place before white custom and law hardened against it, and forbade it, under the influence of the white man’s intense determination to survive on a black continent. There are about one-quarter million Indians, whose forefathers were brought out by the English settlers to work on the sugar farms of Natal. And there are eight million black people, the people of the African tribes.
“The Afrikaans-speaking people are the descendants of the Dutch who first came to the Cape of Good Hope, which Francis Drake, the navigator, described as the fairest cape in all the circumference of the earth. These people did not come to Africa to settle, but the fertile valleys and great mountains of the Cape bound them with a spell.
“The primitive Bushmen and Hottentots could not stand up against this new thing that came out of Europe, and they melted away. But under the influence of the isolation of these vast spaces, and the hardships and loneliness of this patriarchal life, the people from Europe and the language from Holland changed. Something African entered into both people and language, and changed them. This people themselves recognized and they called themselves the Afrikaners. Their new and simple and flexible and beautiful language they called Afrikaans; their love of this new country was profound and passionate.
“But still another change awaited them. As the Afrikaners moved yet further north they encountered the warlike tribes of the black African people. A long and bloody warfare ensued between them. The black men were numerous and savage and determined; the history of this encounter is one of terror and violence. The black people became truly a part of the white man’s mind.
“Under the influence of this danger, the Afrikaner attitude toward black men hardened. The safety and survival of the small band of white people were seen as dependent on the rigid separation of white and black. It became the law that the relationship between white and black was to be that between master and servant; and it became the iron law that between white men and black women, between black men and white women, there was to be no other relationship but this. Land was set aside for the conquered tribes, but, as we see so clearly today, never enough.
“Yet another powerful influence entered into the making of the Afrikaner soul. In 1 8oo the English came to the Cape, during the Napoleonic Wars. They came initially, not as settlers, but as governors, officials, missionaries, teachers, traders, and fortune-seekers. Their attitude to the black man was different from that of the Afrikaner. The black man was not their enemy; he was their business. This fundamental incompatibility between two policies was to influence South African history for many years. It reached a climactic point in 1836, when many of the Afrikaner trekkers, abandoning all that they had so far gained, set out on the greatest trek of all, into the heart of the sub-continent, in order to escape the new and alien culture. There they set up the republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. The position now was that the coastal regions of South Africa were Eng1i h; the great interior plateau was Afrikaner; and on the fringes of both English and Afrikaner worlds lived the black vim, doing the white man’s work for him, steadily losing the dignity of their old ways of life.
In order for Kenyans writers to shine both locally and internationally they must change there artistic approach of telling African story with dignity it deserved from grave digging, bull fighting, wedding among other in order to produces more Prof Ngugis,Francis Imbuga, Meja Mwangi to name few.
This can only be achieved if story telling and teaching of creative writing can be taken seriously in our School and Colleges, while critics should sharpen there pens.