Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Born a Crime: Don't fight the system, mock the system

I know, I've been super bad at posting recently. I have reasons, sure, but still. I should get better at this which means I need to push myself. Especially where I'm reading more, which means I'm just getting further and further behind.

With that, let me tell you about my love for Trevor Noah's book Born a Crime. Specifically the audiobook, which is how I "read" this and it was amazing. Not only because I love his accent (though, I mean, that was definitely a big part of it) but he is an excellent storyteller.

Of course listening it on audio means I have no notes or quotes to go back to. So shit. Hopefully this won't be too much of a mess.

For those that aren't familiar, Trevor Noah was born in South Africa during apartheid to a black mother and a white father, which means that his very existence was illegal. He had a quote (whether from the book or from an interview, or both, I don't remember) where he says he always thought he was an indoor child, until he got older and realized it wasn't that he didn't want to be outside, but that he wasn't allowed to play outside, lest someone see him. This is obviously a serious topic, and while it does get sad or has points that make you angry, things are kept light. He is a comedian after all. But at no point did I feel like I was reading a bit (and even having watched a few of his stand up specials, which I recommend, there was no point where I was thinking I had heard this story before).

Noah had his ways of getting by in a world that saw him as a violation. Mostly he did it by learning a crazy amount of languages (crazy to me, a monolingual American who knows a handful of phrases in a couple languages), because he learned that even if he didn't look like you, if he talked like you, he could be one of you. A skill that was SUPER important for someone who didn't look like anyone who was supposed to exist, not in South Africa at this time.

The story follows Noah from his childhood, which involved a LOT of church (3 churches on Sunday plus Bible study a couple times during the week), through his teen years as an entrepreneurial DJ (one of the few people who had a CD burner). But as much as this is the story of Trevor, it is the story of his mother, Patricia, who is a serious badass.

Patricia is painted as a deeply religious and also rebellious woman, who went against apartheid, not just in having a child with a white man, but also in living and working in areas that were banned to her. She raised Noah mostly on her own, or rather with her family, because his father wasn't allowed to be with them. She has a sense of humor, which is something you need to get by in a world like this.

For example, one of my favorite quick anecdotes Trevor tells is when he and his mother were at a grocery story and he was whining about getting some candy. As they're about to get to the register his mother, visible irritated with him, tells him fine, he can get one. He runs off to grab a candy and when he comes back and puts it on the belt, his mother acts like she has no idea who he is. And of course, because his mother is black and he is light-skinned, the cashier believes his mother that this must not be his child. They're nice to him and try to help him find his mother, while Trevor wails that this woman is his mother. She grabs her bags and leaves with Trevor, leaving the candy behind, crying after her. When they get outside she says of course she knows she's his mother, but he was annoying her and asking for this she told him not to have. So don't do that any more.

OK, I feel like that probably didn't paint her in the BEST light, but still, it was hilarious and Trevor says that he was being super annoying and that he could be spoiled. The benefit, one he didn't understand as a kid, of being a "white" kid in a black family. He has one quote (paraphrasing cos again, no quotes since it's an audiobook) where he says he didn't think that he didn't get beat, where his cousins would (different time) because he was white. Trevor didn't get beat because he is Trevor, and obviously Trevor is special.

I could keep going on but I'll stop here. I highly, highly recommend this book, especially the audiobook. Like, I talked about it enough that at least one co-worker downloaded the audiobook the other day, and made sure to let me know. Possibly so I'd stop telling him how he should read/listen do it.* The book is funny and touching and serious and even suspenseful at times, and one of the few audiobooks I listened to while on the train because I just couldn't put it down.

Gif rating:
*Jokes on him. Listen to my recommendation and that just empowers me to make more!

Title quote from one I found on Goodreads cos of audiobook and I didn't write anything down cos who plans? Not me.

Noah, Trevor. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. Audible Studios, 2016.