Too Late the Phalarope

by Alan Paton

Having read Cry, the Beloved Country in high school, and having thoroughly enjoyed it, I always meant to get around to Paton’s other well-known work. This weekend I unpacked a box of books that was gathering dust in our apartment, and decided to read for a while before I went to bed.

The book had a completely different feel from Cry, the Beloved Country, although the writing style was (obviously) similar. It has been likened to a modern-day Greek tragedy, with an admirable hero whose one weakness brings destruction not only on himself but upon his family; the narrator is his aunt, and selections from the hero’s own writing add depth to the story.

Although some readers assume that Too Late the Phalarope is about apartheid or Puritanical morals, I disagree. What I saw as the central theme of the book was the inability to let other people see weakness, even if they can help. The protagonist had countless opportunities to stop the destruction he knew would come — but each time his silence won. In a way it reminded me of people who suffer from depression and are unable to admit their need, are unable or unwilling to cry out.

If you’ve read Cry, the Beloved Country (and liked it), I definitely think you should give this book a try. The writing is captivating, the story compelling. However, Cry, the Beloved Country is in many ways a richer, more textured work that may be easier and more enjoyable for many people to read.

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