1/18/17

Born a Crime - Trevor Noah {REVIEW}


Well, I'm one book down for my 2017 TBR & reading goals for the year. One down, 19 to go! I can't lie: I feel some pressure to try and get a good deal of reading done before the Spring semester starts and school reading takes precedence. I also feel like how I start the year, sets the tone for the rest and how much reading I'll get through. I love to read. I really do. I just don't know how to not be neurotic about the tasks I set out to accomplish. Whether they are hobbies I enjoy doing or otherwise. I suppose that's something to work on...

Anyways, so the first book of the year is read, and I ended up starting the year off with Trevor Noah's debut book and memoir, Born a Crime. I'm a fairly big fan of Trevor Noah. I was a huge fan of The Daily Show when it was hosted by John Stewart, and I think that Noah is a wonderful host as well. He is not John Stewart, just like Steven Colbert is not David Letterman, and no one, I mean no one, is Craig Ferguson (♥♥♥). That is neither complement or insult. It's merely fact. I think Trevor Noah does a great job hosting The Daily Show. I also have to admit that I could listen to him talk all day. That accent. <3

I only knew a little bit about Noah prior to reading his book, just the basics of his life growing up in South Africa, but I knew that I wanted to read his book as soon as I heard about it. I put it on my Christmas wish list and thankfully I was gifted the book.

The book tells the story of Noah's life growing up, but does not really dive into his rise to fame, or his life now. As he is only 32 years old, that's not really surprising. He's still young - and it leaves the door open for more writing if he so desired down the road. It could also be that he doesn't feel the need to talk about that part of his life - that really isn't the point of this book I suppose. I have a thing for memoirs and learning about people's lives though, so I guess I often find myself wanting more (you could probably write a book that documented mundane day-to-day tasks and there's a good chance I'd read it...and enjoy it). I think that by only focusing on certain chapters of his life though, he made the book stronger.

In reading Born a Crime, you not only learn about Noah's personal life, but also, the book exposes you to the climate of life in South Africa. The culture, racism, conflict... the book is incredibly dynamic and while it is through Noah's point of view that the reader is introduced to all of these themes, it feels straight-forward and not overly laced with bias. I think that Noah has a gift for writing - and writing in such a way that engages his reader, through clear language. It was difficult to put this book down - and it was all to easy to fly through the pages, perhaps even too quickly.

Noah fills the pages of his book with the same wit and sarcasm which has made him such a hit as a comedian, and as the host of The Daily Show, and which has made me such a fan. He has a talent at delivering truths while also layering in some humour. Maybe its just the art of highlighting what is ludicrous in reality. Whatever it is, he's got a knack.

In Born a Crime, his discussions of language as a tool of apartheid and of "racist code" is interesting and well done. In the United States, we often hear the argument that people should learn to speak English if they're going to be here. Language is often used in perpetuating societal conflict, and many racists feel that it justifies their fears and their assumptions of other classes, races, and ethnic groups. Someone speaking a different language is seen as untrustworthy. The woman speaking Spanish must be illegal, yes? The man speaking Arabic is dangerous, right? Language is a fuel to the fire these stereotypes create. Language can open doors or close them. Noah discusses the importance and benefit of knowing multiple languages, especially in a place like South Africa, where so many languages exists together. Language helps him to traverse the complicated mix of cultures and social constructs. Later in the book, he highlights just how language, or the lack of understanding a language,  can hold an individual back or pin the system against them. The importance of language is something I'm sure we all can understand and appreciate to a degree, but Noah highlights it's power on a whole new level.

I enjoyed the argument that he makes in Born a Crime, that the dreams we dream, are often limited by what we know. The world we live in, the environment we know and are exposed to, influences what we think of in terms of our hopes and aspirations. Our life chances dictate our dreams. He says,

"We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited."

I think that Noah provides a refreshing perspective when it comes to poverty, and the cycle of living in such an environment. In the book, he also discusses crime, the "hood", and life within it. Noah makes an interesting argument that crime does more to provide for those living in dire straights than the government frequently does. He notes how crime is viewed differently based on the culture and climate in which it is occurring, and how different people view crime differently. Violent crime is still violent crime, yes. However, Noah's life experiences brought him to view crime as a far more complicated subject than many might. Instead of viewing all crime as simply wrong - he accepts the fact that often, crime comes as necessity, and as a means of survival. Something frequently overlooked in the discussion of crime.

Reading Born a Crime, felt like I was reading a book made of many layers. There were personal stories, some lighthearted, others heartbreaking, and then lessons on culture and history. I can say that I feel I have learned a great deal about Noah as a person, but also about South Africa. I found the book to be a rather refreshing read, and it's one I would urge anyone to read. It was my first book of the year and I rated it five stars on Goodreads! I'm glad I started the year off with such a winner!



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