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South Africa Since World War II : JOURNEY CONTINUED : An Autobiography by Alan Paton (Charles Scribner's Sons: $22.50; 320 pp., illustrated; 0-684-18946-1) : IN THE NAME OF APARTHEID : South Africa in the Postwar Era by Martin Meredith (Harper & Row: $25;320 pp.; 0-06-435659-0)

October 30, 1988|Martin Rubin | Rubin is the author of a biography of the South African novelist whom Paton called "the best of us all": "Sarah Gertrude Millin: A South African Life" (Wildwood House, London, 1978). and

In 1980, Alan Paton finished the first volume of his autobiography, "Towards the Mountain," with the hope that before he died he would write the story of the rest of his life. When he died April 12 of this year, "Journey Continued" was already at the printer's. Despite bouts of ill-health and a distracting attempt to accomplish the task in fictional form (in a projected trilogy, only one volume of which--"Ah, but Your Land Is Beautiful"--appeared), he had managed to produce the concluding volume of his autobiography, "Journey Continued."

Whether he succeeded in completely giving us the story of the rest of his life, however, is open to question. For one thing, he passes lightly over the last 20 years: Except for a few incidents, the narrative ends with his second marriage in January 1969. And for another, the thrust of this book is markedly less personal. Readers who were startled--or impressed--or even shocked--by the frank sexual and other intimate revelations of "Towards the Mountain" and "For You Departed," his 1969 memoir of his first wife, Dorrie, will look in vain for similar revelations here. Or for the distillation of powerful emotion that Paton himself regarded as the source of his best writing. Paton the public man--his doings and opinions--are everywhere in "Journey Continued"; his deeper life is harder to find.

The book opens in 1948 when, following the phenomenal success of his first novel, "Cry, the Beloved Country," Paton decided to devote himself full-time to his newly discovered craft. The possibility of continuing his progressive regime at Johannesburg's Diepkloof Reformatory for African delinquents had been cut off in any case by the election of the Nationalist government.

We learn in some detail of the excitements and disappointments he experienced in seeing his novel made into a movie by Zoltan Korda and into a musical play, "Lost in the Stars," by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson. It is fascinating to observe not only the typical reactions of an artist at other people taking control of his material, but also the genuine distress of a deeply religious man at the liberties taken with the theology of his book. Paton was a committed Anglican; those who adapted his work were not believing Christians. The near-agnosticism of "Lost in the Stars" was particularly distressing to him, blighting the profound pleasure he took in the proliferation of his novel's renown. For all its beauty, the heart of "Cry, the Beloved Country" to its author was its message--religious as well as political and social--and it was a blow to him that this was vitiated in the course of its translation to other media.

The core of "Journey Continued," however, is surely the story of Paton's relationship with the short-lived political party he helped found. Indeed, he dedicates the book "To members of the Liberal Party of South Africa and in memory of those who have died." Paton writes at length of the party's travails and its achievements. He is proud of its genuinely multiracial character--unique among South African political parties excepting the Communist Party of South Africa before it was disbanded in 1950. Yet he writes as unflinchingly of the internal dissensions that racked the Liberal Party as he does of the treatment it received at the hands of the Nationalist government.

The Liberal Party dissolved itself in 1968 rather than submit to a new regulation forbidding the existence of multiracial political parties. So much discussion of the internal politics of a party that ceased to exist more than 20 years ago might seem excessive. But Paton the novelist has written with a passion that brings to life people long dead and issues--such as the liberal's natural suspicion of and particular hostility to the Communist--which are still relevant to analysis of today's anti-apartheid organizations and liberation movements.

On a visit to Yale University as a Chubb Fellow in 1973, Paton defined what liberalism meant to him when he founded the Liberal Party of South Africa in 1953:

"By liberalism I don't mean the creed of any party or any century. I mean a generosity of spirit, a tolerance of others, an attempt to comprehend otherness, a commitment to the rule of law, a high ideal of the worth and dignity of man, a repugnance for authoritarianism and a love of freedom."

Although he modestly avers that this is not "the world's greatest definition of liberalism," he is clearly proud of being a liberal and having lived his life according to these principles.

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