The book is set in South Africa during WWII when the systemic evils of apartheid were coming to full bloom and an awareness of the evils in the South African political system were coming into view. Paton paints the story of an old Zulu man named Stephen Kumalo, an Anglican priest, who is trying to hold his community together, deal with the crimes of his son, and hold onto his own faith. It is a great read.
I have heard it said that when writing fiction bad characters and bad circumstances are much easier to portray. Evil characters are almost always more interesting than good ones. This book expresses something different, and although evil has its place in it, goodness seeps and creeps out around the edges until it covers the whole.
One reading note: Paton writes dialogue differently than most. Rather than using quotation marks he set’s off conversations with a dash. This may take a chapter or two to get used to but it actually works very well. Also, the book often reads like poetry. In many places there are flow and meter and repetition which blur the line between prose and poetry.
(By the way, I picked this book up in the bargain bin for just a few dollars. There have been a couple of movies made of it and I think it is gaining in popularity again thanks to Oprah.)