Cry, the Beloved Country was written before passage of a new law institutionalizing the apartheid political system in South Africa. The novel was published in 1948; apartheid became law later that same year.
The book enjoyed critical success around the world. It sold over 15 million copies before Paton's death.
The book is studied currently by many schools internationally. The style of writing echoes the rhythms and tone of the King James Bible. Paton was a devout Christian.
Paton combined actual locales, such as Ixopo and Johannesburg, with fictional towns. The suburb in which Jarvis lived in Johannesburg, Parkwold, is fictional but its ambiance is typical of the Johannesburg suburbs of Parktown and of Saxonwold. In the author's preface, Paton took pains to note that, apart from passing references to Jan Smuts and Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, all his characters were fictional.