Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
1. Where is the book on the narrative continuum?
Highly narrative (reads like fiction)
2. What is the subject of the book?
Growing up in South Africa towards the end of apartheid with a white father and a black mother.
3. What type of book is it?
A memoir style collection of stories from the author's childhood and adolescence
4. Articulate appeal
What is the pacing of the book? Quick
Describe the characters of the book. The characters are determined. The main character is his mother, who was able to hold a full time job in an upscale area of Johannesburg, even though she was black. She lived in a house with 14 other people growing up, and was able to become a successful woman, even though the odds were against her. She had a child with a man of Swiss/German descent, during a time where it was illegal to be in mixed company. She later married and had a child with a man who was abusive to her and her children, and attempted to murder her. As much as this book is a testament to Trevor Noah’s success, his mother is the one who showed him how to achieve and thrive in the most difficult of times.
How does the story feel? The story is humorous, but sobering. We often know that apartheid was the separation of black and white, but it also caused a riff between the different tribal heritages that were in the area. Having these bits of humor makes it easier for a white woman living in Southern Indiana to swallow the harsh realities of the world.
What is the intent of the author? Trevor Noah is shining a light on what is was like to be neither white nor black during a time in history where it was dangerous to be either. How his own family treated him differently because he had lighter skin than them. How he was able to navigate segregated neighborhoods, but never felt that he belonged to either group. He had to be quick thinking and quick on his feet to get himself out of some sticky situations.
What is the focus of the story? Being an adolescent in South Africa during and after apartheid. It focuses on the family dynamic that he grew up in. This is as much a coming of age story as it is a family drama.
Does the language matter? Yes, because the subject matter is difficult to swallow, the humorous stories allows those who might have only picked this book up because he is a comedian to take everything with a grain of salt. Due to his writing style he is able to humanize a rough time in history.
Is the setting important and well described? Yes, Trevor Noah describes the different areas he lived very vividly. From the slums, suburbs, and upscale areas in the various townships that he lived in growing up is important to narrate his story.
Are there details and, if so, of what? He uses a very descriptive style to describe the area he grew up. The details that really stayed with me are how houses were built in the poorer townships. Most did not have a bathroom, so they were forced to go in an outhouse. There were always several family members living in one or two bedroom houses. The houses would be built up one wall at a time over many years, and if they were lucky, there was a fence several years later.
He also discusses how his mother owned a very old Volkswagen to get them to the various churches they attended on Sunday. It often broke down and were forced to take a minibus, which ran on it's own schedule. Getting around was difficult and his writing style made it evident.
Are there sufficient charts and other graphic materials? Are they useful and clear? There were no charts of graphic material in this book.
Does the book stress moments of learning, understanding, or experience? Absolutely. His story is unique because there were very few mixed children in South Africa, so he is able to give a special understanding to what it was like during apartheid.
5. Why would a reader enjoy this book (rank appeal)?
1. Compelling subject
2. Unique look at South Africa toward the end of apartheid
3. Humorous writing style