The book starts slowly, but the beautiful prose is present from the opening lines. The story gathers speed throughout Book I, and Book II is hard to put down. In my opinion, Paton connects the reader with the humanity of his characters in a compelling and artful fashion. Throughout the book, as Paton describes some mundane task or ritual of one of the characters, I found myself thinking, "Ah, yes, that is what I do when I am trying to..." The fact that this transcendent humanity appears in characters of all colors is powerful today, but must have been exceedingly so 70 years ago.
The single point I found most powerful was the musing of a father over the murder of his son. As he is confronted with universal testimony of his son's charity and striving for justice, and then contrasts that with the circumstances of his death, the father repeatedly reflects to himself and others close to him how he doesn't understand why his son--who had devoted his life to helping others--was murdered. Paton never directly relates how the father answers this question, but the reader can surmise what conclusions the father has reached by his actions throughout the rest of the book. As if to underscore his point, the author comes at the same theme with a clear description of the role of the judge as opposed to the character of the law administered by the judge. Without preaching, or departing from a compelling narrative of real people navigating a series of perplexing and tragic events, Paton leads the reader to see the contrast between justice and injustice at the level of the individual and of the society as a whole.
Another compelling aspect of this story is the description of the destructive effects progress can have on the environment, and how environmental degradation hastens the destruction of other social structures. He is careful to illustrate how these destructive effects are avoidable. Again, though written a long time ago, there are clear lessons for the challenges we face today in both the social and environmental realms. I hope this book remains required reading for a long time to come, and that those who have not read it make a point of seeking it out. Reading Cry, The Beloved Country is time well spent.