THERE is no large area of the civilized world which we have read less about than South Africa. And most of what we have read has been in the vein of adultery on the safari, or big game and Englishmen out in the noonday sun. Yet South Africa shares with the United States an acute racial problem, exacerbated in the Dominion by the great preponderance of blacks over whites and by the existence of a third element — the “coloreds” — a million people of mixed blood.
In Alan Paton’s novel, Cry, the Beloved Country (Scribner, $3.00), hate and villainy are not personified by any of the main protagonists. Violence is virtually absent; there is a murder but it happens offstage. Yet Mr. Paton has projected with extraordinary poignancy the tragedy of South Africa’s blacks, shorn of their moral law by the destruction of tribal society, corrupted by oppression, crowded into squalid slums in Johannesburg, and monstrously exploited by the whites who fear that betterment will make the blacks more conscious of their power.
The mainspring of this unusual book is saintliness. The hero, an old Zulu minister, the Reverend Stephen Kumalo, is a feat of characterization rare in the modern novel: a convincing portrait of a saintly man. The story opens: —
There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them to Carisbrooke; and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys in Africa. About you there is grass and bracken and you may hear the forlorn crying of the titihoya, one of the birds of the veld. . . . The grass is rich. . . . Stand unshod upon it, for the ground is holy. ... It keeps men, guards men, cares for men.
But down in the lower valleys the eroded soil cannot keep men. So the young go off to Johannesburg. And to Johannesburg journeys Stephen Kumalo in search of a vanished brother and sister and a vanished son, Absalom. The story of that search is told almost entirely in dialogue, in which the Zulu idiom, rendered in simple English, yields a lyrical cadence sometimes touched with Biblical grandeur.
Kumalo finds that his sister has become a prostitute, his brother a rabble-rouser, and his son a murderer. He has murdered a young white man who is the most ardent champion of the blacks, and the son of the great landowner in his home district. “It seems that God has turned from me,” Kumalo says, as he leaves his doomed son. And his torment mirrors that of his people.
Back in his village he meets the sorrowing father of the man his son murdered. The scenes that ensue between the white lord and the humble Zulu achieve a rare intensity and poetic compassion. In them the spiritual and social dramas are entwined, and comfort is wrenched out of desolation. The comfort is unfortunately a trifle pat: milk for the sick child, a new church, a dam for the stricken valley. But if Mr. Baton’s symbolism fails him in the final pages, his message loses nothing of its urgency.
Et tu, Brute!
Publication of Jim Farley’s Story (Whittlesey, $3.50) coincided with the Jackson Day rapprochement between Mr. Farley and the President. It is therefore daring of Mr. Farley to announce, in his acknowledgment of help from the Chicago Tribune’s Walter Trohan, that Trohan “knew almost every word of this story for years and never once broke my confidence.” Narrow-minded Democrats may not be amused by the piquant disclosure that the zealous chairman of their party was confiding its darkest secrets to a field officer of Colonel McCormick’s G-2.
Mr. Farley’s story (“I owed it to history”) of the Roosevelt years is a handshake-by-handshake account of election campaigns, political appointments, and the author’s relations with F.D.R. and V.I.P.’s in the Democratic Party. Much of it is told in conversations, preserved in the notes which Mr. Farley dictated daily “with no thought toward publication.” The effect is somewhat as if Farley had carried around a recording gadget in his pocket and were now playing back selected excerpts, punctuated with a running commentary. The excerpts make enormously intriguing reading. But I cannot recall a political memoir in which the author so flagrantly refutes his own pretensions, Farley’s being identical in tenor to the “noble” Brutus’s oration on the death of Caesar.
Mr. Farley belabors the reader with coy protestations about his modesty, his incapacity “to harbor ill-will,” his shrinking from high office. All the while he gives vent to an embarrassing display of vainglory (“I was at my best, in meeting people”; “I was growing in stature”; and so on); of peevishness deepening into vindictive rancor; and finally of frustrated ambition. His eternal lament that he got no credit for his services is refuted by numerous citations of Presidential praise. His thesis that personal ambition played no part in his break with Roosevelt is contradicted by endless variations on the theme, Farley for President; or Vice-president. (“I want to be fair to myself, for, had it not been for the man many have credited me with putting in the While House, I might have been Vice-president or even President. I say that without rancor. . . .”) Avoiding as far as possible direct attack on F.D.R., Mr. Farley accumulates snide anecdotes and damaging quotations, all of which may be true and yet be a travesty of the whole truth. For despite his failings, which have been exhaustively catalogued, there were, to say the least, qualities of statesmanship in Mr. Roosevelt. To these, Farley is willfully blind, as he is to the possibility that vote-catching may not be the sole criterion by which policy should be judged.
Mr. Farley states that he was attracted to Roosevelt as a vole-getter. He pays a passing tribute to Roosevelt’s “administrative daring and essential reform” but in general betrays an astounding lack of interest in policy, national or international, except to complain whenever social reform caused disturbances within the party, whenever appointments did not go to those “from a party point of view entitled to consideration.”(John Winant’s ambassadorship, for example, struck Mr. Farley as irregular.) “I urged that we become politically minded,” he boasts, and he notes that “ I began to have doubts when Roosevelt began neglecting the rules of the game.” Doubt hardened into enmity when Roosevelt did an about-face on the third term and thus barred the way to “men who deserved laurels for years of faithful party service.” (“I can say in all honesty . . . that the convention would have nominated me for either one spot or the other, with definite assurance of success.”) What rankled more was the discovery that the “Boss” did not consider Mr. Farley to be of Presidential stature. The portrait which he gives of himself in these pages would seem to substantiate Mr. Roosevelt’s assessment.
Police slates, and how they grow
A second “now ii can be told” book also bears down on the late President, I his time in the diplomatic field, I Saw Poland Betrayed (BobbsMerrill, $3.50) by Arthur Bliss Lane, American Ambassador to that country from 1944 to 1947, holds Roosevelt and Churchill in part responsible for its fate, and chronicles, with infectious wrath and a wealth of firsthand detail, the reduction of Poland to a Soviet police state. Much of what Mr. Lane reports is by now familiar stuff, but the story he tells is an important one. Mr. Lane concludes that “the day is undoubtedly coming when the Soviet Union will again request our assistance, economic and financial.” And that, he believes, will give us the opportunity to restore freedom to Russia’s satellites by insisting upon “new elections, under supervision of the United Nations” — a reassuring prognosis, somewhat out of keeping with the author’s doomsday account.
Edward Grankshaw, a distinguished historian who served with the British Military Mission in Moscow, would agree with Mr. Lane on most of his facts about the Russian Terror, but his Russia and the Russians (Viking, $3.00) is a striking departure from the customary attitudes toward the Soviet Union — one that will dismay fellow travelers and conservatives alike. Mr. Crankshaw sets out to unravel the Russian enigma by showing that the history, character, political ideas, and behavior of the Russians are the inevitable product of “the unchanging conditions of their landscape and I heir climate.”
The result is an intensely controversial and penetrating essay, packed with forceful and original insights, and extremely well written, as Crankshaw’s vignette of Stalin will suggest: —
There is nothing detached and impersonal about this pale little man with his impassive exterior, his faintly Mephistophelian eyebrows, his pale, plump hands, his lavender-grey utilities, all veiling the will of a Dancing Dervish, the hot passions of a Caucasian brigand, the lucidity of a Spanish philosopher, and the ruthlessness of a Chinese war-lord.
No brief summary can avoid oversimplifying Crankshaw’s analysis, which takes the following tack: The great Eurasian plain, with its extremes of heat and cold, brilliance and grayness, has bred a temperament immoderate in all things and “profoundly at odds with itself” — at once emotional and coldly realistic, capable of extraordinary endurance and incorrigible lethargy, anarchic à l’outrance and slavishly obedient. At war with the pitiless plain, the Russian “has an instinct which tells him he must combine or perish.” But, incapable of compromise, he cannot combine on his own level and so installs a superior authority — whence the unbroken tradition of autocracy and the Russian mania for orthodoxy. Mr. Crankshaw puts it thus: —
The plain is autocratic because it is anarchic. ... You choose a different sort of creature, saying to him, “Come and rule over us. . . .” You are governed by a being apart. You accept his rules because everybody else accepts them and you have at least the sense to see that somebody must rule.
In the light of this analysis, the paradoxes of contemporary Russia make a new kind of sense — such paradoxes as the glaring inequality between the masses and the Communist hierarchy (“a being apart”); the ruthless press censorship and the socalled freedom of the press (“you accept his rules”); the striking contrast between Soviet achievements in medicine, science, technology and the subhuman conditions of everyday life (“brilliance and greyness”).
The Soviet’s phobia of aggression and the aggressiveness of its own diplomacy are cogently explained in terms of history, geography, and psychology. Mr. Crankshaw is convinced the exhausted Russians do not want a war. He is equally certain they will go on behaving just as if they did. The West can avert exasperation only by recognizing that the Russians will never think, govern, or conduct their foreign relations in conformity with Western ideas. Our temperamental difference with them amounts to a total and chronic incompatibility.
We have before us, Mr. Crankshaw insists, only two alternatives: to remove the incompatibility by deliberate conquest, which would be “the reasonable solution,” though both dangerous and morally repugnant; to accept the incompatibility as unalterable fact and tolerate the Russians just as they are. This tolerance would come more easily, Crankshaw observes, if we were to shed the hypocrisy that sanctifies our own power policies with democratic slogans. He concludes that long-term adjustment of Western civilization to the Soviet will necessitate a remodeling of “our whole conception of society,” an abdication of national sovereignty, and a recognition that “uncontrolled individualism” is but “one practical [social] expedient among others.” The objections that spring to mind should not deter the thoughtful reader from this stimulating book, which places everything about the Russians in sharper focus.
The bewildering Japanese are subjected to a character analysis in Fallen Sun (AppletonCentury, $2.50), u breezy report on MacArthur’s Japan by Noel Busch, an editor of Life. The author proceeds from what he chooses to call the “Freudian-Jesuitical” principle that “the child is the father of the man.”In Japan the care and tenderness lavished on infants result in subconscious projection into adult life of the attitudes of a serene childhood. Devoted to his parents, the Japanese welcomes submission to authority; the Emperor’s “divinity “ is simply that of the “noble and heroic” father, a role now shared by General MacArthur. The responsiveness to teaching, the notorious imitativeness of the Japanese, are an adult extension of agreeable schooldays. Mr. Busch applies his principle to many facets of Japanese behavior. The results, in their full context, are arresting and persuasive.
Fallen Sun also contains a lively picture of contemporary Japan as seen through the eyes of the conquerors; a report on conditions in Tokyo’s “Flower and Willow” world, or café society; a profile of Tokyo’s No. 1 Glamour Geisha, Miss Peach Blossom, née plain Blessed-with-Prosperity Kanemoto; a survey of MacArthur’s administration; and an estimate of the outlook in the Orient. Mr. Busch, who has a touch of John Gunther’s flair for anecdote, comes up with some entrancing examples of the ironies of Nipponese democracy: the prostitute who refused to be arrested, on the ground that democracy entitled her to choose her “career”; the railway executive who denied his workers a wage boost, because it would rob them of their democratic right to strike; the geishas who formed a union as evidence of their “democratic ideas,” then appealed to the Provost Marshal for American patronage. The Japanese are behaving, says Mr. Busch, “as though occupation by Americans had been their top war aim all along.” But herein lies a danger, for the more avidly they learn, the more avidly they are practicing obedience — an attitude which the nearby Russians are waiting to exploit.
The book’s glaring weakness is its adulation of* MacArthur. “Providence,” it seems, “had him in mind for his present function about the time Perry sailed into Tokyo Bay.” In Fallen Sun, Providence casts him in the familiar role of demigod who can do no wrong. Even the “rattle of MacArthur’s matchbox” is to Mr. Busch a “sound symbolic” of something related to destiny. All this weakens the force of Busch’s verdict that the occupation is a “resounding success,” the more so since he himself shows economic conditions to be perilously chaotic.
No tree grows amid the damp, smelly, bug, ridden tenements of Surry Hills, Sydney, but Hetty Smith’s Irish Family has its lovable counterpart halfway around I he world from Brooklyn. It lives in ;m unlucky house which the landlord had renumbered from 13 to 12 and the name is Darcy. Its creator is Ruth Park, winner of a prize for the best Australian novel of the year, Harp in the Soulth (Houghton Mifflin, $3.00). This is a st urdy, deeply human book, touched with compassion for the suffering and striving of the poor who will always be poor: brimful of the guts, the humor, the idiosyncrasies, the small pleasures, and the wistful hopes that keep them hanging, somelimes joyously, on to life.
Hugh Darcy is an incorrigible tosspot in a country where a man can buy a bottle of muscat for four shillings and sixpence and “get madder on it than a cow in a patch of poison weed.” I t makes Hughie grow six inches and clothes him in a uniform of red and gold. When he is sober his forte is cooking a pudding “dark as midnight and rich as Persia,” so stuffed with fruits that “you couldn’t spit between them.” Mumma holds the family together and keeps watch over Granny, a rambunctious old hussy always yelling for a “new pipeful.” Their daughters are Dolour and her elder sister Roic, who loves not wisely for a start but then loves well. They will go without potatoes, the Darcys, to buy Roic a silk shawl with “flowers as green as the sea”; somehow they always celebrate an occasion with a generous nip of brandy and a helping of father’s “pud.”
There is never a dull moment in Surry Hills. Delie Stock, who keeps a bawdy house, goes calling on Father Cooley to sponsor a picnic for the children of St. Brendan’s. And though the good Father rejects the Madam’s tainted money, profane logic proves stronger than virtuous scruple. Mr. Gunnerson, the organ-grinder, courts the mysterious Miss Shieley, a prim spinster with an idiot son. She isn’t, much impressed by his salmon-pink tie and his present of a lobster wrapped in greasy paper; but they make their exit hand in hand. Lick Jimmy, the Chinese hermit, celebrates his “blirtday” exploding firecrackers in the privacy of his bedroom. And Patrick Diamond, the Orangeman, drops in on his Catholic friends to bum a drink and save their souls from “Popery.”
This is a likable crew, warmly and skillfully portrayed.