Reverend Stephen Kumalo lives with his wife in a remote village, Ndotsheni, where he is a respected umfundisi. His sister Gertrude, his brother John and his son Absalom have all gone to live to Johannesburg. One day The reverend receives a letter from Theophilus Msimangu urging him to come to Johannesburg because Gertrude is very sick.
And so begins Stephen's long descent from the mountains to the capital which almost resembles a descent into Hell. Indeed, he is to discover that Gertrude is a prostitute and liquor seller who doesn't care about her young daughter, that John is a politician fighting against the white leadership and that Absalom has murdered a white man.
Mr Paton admirably portrays all the contradictions which the people of South Africa endured in the 1950s. And he does so through the eyes of a forlorn old man who tries to make sense of the way the members of his family behave. The author's humanity, compassion, generosity and wisdom are apparent in every sentence he writes and his novel shows with sensitivity the complex social and racial issues in a country where so many had to suffer for so long.