From Publishers Weekly
South African writer Paton (1903-1988) had a rich life and career beyond his bestseller, Cry the Beloved Country. In this authorized biography, the South African-born and educated Alexander, who teaches English at a university in Australia, does Paton justice. He traces the origins of Paton’s drive and values to his harsh childhood and authoritarian father, untangles deceptions in Paton’s autobiographical writings and ably weaves together Paton’s troubled personal life and his career. He shows how Paton’s 1948 classic grew out of his work as principal of Diepkloof, a reformatory for black youths, from 1935 to 1948, and how his principles were fostered by his association with the Anglican church. He describes Paton’s frustrations as a leader of the small anti-apartheid Liberal Party from 1953 to 1968, his harassment by the government and his subsequent clashes with radicals willing to use violence to fight the state. While none of Paton’s post-Cry writngs hit such a high mark, Alexander deems them "never less than good" and observes that Paton’s liberal ideals and political moderation have proved "uncannily prophetic." A definitive work on an important writer and activist.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country. a classic of modern literature still read by thousands of people every year, brought international attention to the political turmoil in South Africa and its repressive system of apartheid when it was published in 1948. Few people, however, are aware of Paton’s astonishing range of abilities, abilities which gave him success in four separate careers: as a teacher, prison reformer, writer, and politician. In Alan Paton: A Biography. Peter F. Alexander, a scholar and writer who knew Paton personally for fifteen years, brings us the first full biography of the South African novelist, written with the cooperation of the writer’s widow, his two sons, and based on the most intimate biographical documents, ranging from Paton’s and his first wife’s diaries to love-letters.
Alan Paton: A Biography is the first book to provide insight into those aspects of Paton’s life which he chose to exclude from his autobiographies. From the diffculties of his first marriage to his driving ambition to enter South African politics and reform his native country, Paton is shown here as a much more complex and colorful figure than the public perception of him suggests. Alexander reveals that Paton was a man of extreme passions, capable, as a teacher and prison principal, of displays of a violent temper. Towards the end of his life, he became a heavy drinker in spite of a rigorously puritanical upbringing. Yet Paton’s highly developed sense of humor, evinced in both his writing and his public speeches, and the generous Christian faith that provided him with an all-embracing philosophy, transcended these flaws, and emerge as perhaps his most distinguishing traits.
Alan Paton: A Biography is a "warts and all" portrait of a man whose greatness was hard-won, and whose sympathy and tolerance for others was based on his own moral struggles–and victories. It is also a portrait of 20th Century South Africa and the amazing political metamorphosis that country saw during Paton’s lifetime.
From School Library Journal
YA?A valuable book that provides psychological and biographical insight into the man who is perhaps South Africa’s most visionary writer. However, while this biography readily lends itself to research of specific topics and time periods, most readers will find it difficult to read just a single chapter. One of the most interesting sections chronicles Paton’s time at Diepkloff Reformatory, which demonstrates how he was able to affect change. He replaced barbed wire and guards with education and instilled a feeling of self-worth in young offenders who had been society’s rejects. This is an inspiring and entertaining portrait of someone who, according to Alexander, "hated the power-hungry, exercised intelligence, and had faith in the decency, tolerance and humanity of the common man."?Barbette Timperlake, R.E. Lee High School, Springfield, VA
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
Alexander sets a standard of thoroughness for future works on Paton, but the treasures unearthed by his impressive research are few and far between in this tell-too-much biography. Published in 1948, Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country was a major force in drawing international attention to both literature and apartheid in South Africa. This comprehensive account covers his boyhood; his university years; his teaching career; his long tenure as principal of a reformatory; his emergence as a novelist and persecuted political figure; and his second marriage and later life. Alexander (English/Univ. of New South Wales) knew Paton and had the cooperation of his widow and two sons. His exclusive access to intimate diaries and correspondence allows him to fill out and correct Paton’s autobiographies and various memoirs of him by friends and family. He counters Paton’s published assertions that he was a lenient teacher by presenting the future novelist as a despised schoolmaster whose students went so far as to cheer wildly when he was nearly blinded by a chemistry demonstration gone awry. Alexander also covers Paton’s extramarital affairs, of which he had at least two, and his first, sexually unfulfilling marriage to a widow who wore the wedding band from her first marriage. Since Paton did not write Cry, the Beloved Country until he was in his 40s, much of the story centers on the novelist’s frustrated political ambitions. After becoming a celebrated author, much of his political work was organizational and not really the stuff of exciting storytelling. Alexander tries to show Paton as a man who cared most about serving others, but the dominant narrative thread portrays a self-assuming, sometimes calculating man. Paton achieved the rare feat of writing a novel that perceptively changed the way people looked at part of the world. His own story, however, turns out to be mundane. (8 pages b&w photos) — Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
‘It is one of the great merits of Peter Alexander’s definitive study of Alan Paton that although Alexander thinks Paton was a great man and a great writer, he supplies the evidence on which a quite opposite view may be based.’ Times Higher Education Supplement
‘the emphasis of Alexander’s lively and well-researched book is on Paton as Politician rather than author. It is a tribute to Alexander’s skill and integrity that by the end of the book we have come round to Paton.’ Richard West, The Spectator
‘Without shrinking from the less savoury aspects of a largely worthy life, and without minimsing his subject’s faults and failings, Peter Alexander has done justice to the Alan Paton I knew. the quality Paton’s friend loved most in him was his humour, a quality which shines through in this biography. This thorough and widely researched biography is the most authoritative work yet on Paton, one which sets the standard for succeeding efforts. The author’s deep admiration for his subject has not inhibited his commitment to painting an accurate picture, warts and all.’ Donald Woods, The Sunday Times
`meticulously researched account of his life’ Sue MacGregor, Daily Telegraph
`Peter Alexander has written an excellent biography of an interesting and important man. The story is told steadily respectfully, warts and all, and the judgment is well-considered and balanced.’ J.D.F. Jones, Financial Times
‘Alexander, who came to know Paton well towards the end of his life, is an admiring biographer, but he still manages on occasion to place before us the seamier or more controversial sides of Paton’s life. This is not a ground-breaking book, but it is well researched and well written. For admirers of Paton, it is an affirmation of his brilliance; while for the uninitiated, it is a loving portrait of a remarkable man, an extraordinary time and a strange and tormented land.’ Samantha Weinberg, The Times
‘Alexander has written an honest and open biography of a man who remains a deeply interesting and important figure.’ Times Literary Supplement
‘Alexander. is both sensitive and scrupulous, open and frank.’ Douglas Reid Skinner, SA Times
‘an engrossing new profile’ Bill Keller, International Herald Tribune
`Peter Alexander, with an academic’s eye for detail, takes us steadily but not ploddingly through Paton’s life. Packed with interesting anecdotes, this biography goes some way to providing an answer to the contradictions in the man.’ Daily Telegraph