Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (audiobook)

“Language, even more than color, defines who you are to people.”

born-a-crime

Synopsis from GoodreadsTrevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

The eighteen personal essays collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.

Feelings: This audiobook was the highest-rated new book of 2016 by Audible customers and was the winner of Audible’s Best of 2016 – Celebrity Memoirs. And I completely understand why. I’m a fan of Trevor Noah. I especially kept up with The Daily Show during the presidential election process. He has a way of sifting through the political BS and in a way, he made sure I was really seeing what was going on. He has such a unique perspective, which you learn all about in this book, and I now have a deeper understanding of where he’s coming from during his commentary on American politics and culture.

He has a great ability to paint a picture of a world I’ve never experienced. In no way can I say that I now suddenly totally understand what it’s like to be considered colored in South Africa, but I do finally have a surface level understanding…which is more than I had before. I also was completely unaware of the number of languages and stigmatisms throughout South Africa. In the book, he talks about how black people in South Africa hated John Cecil Rhodes more than Hitler, because of the difference in impact for their people and I wanted to hide under a rock. (See my last name to understand.) I’d always heard that he “founded” or “established” Zimbabwe (once called Rhodesia), but I was completely naive to the negative side of what he did. Now I”m interested in learning more about someone who may have been my ancestor.

Issues: When I picked up this audiobook, I’d just finished another collection of essays. I think this may have tainted my experience with this book. The only issue I really had was with the way the essays were organized. I tried to figure out why they were in the order that they were, but I couldn’t really track with it. They weren’t necessarily in time order, so sometimes it took me a minute to figure out when it was in relation to what he’d already shared.

Narration: No one else could have done this book justice. His accent and personality make this an easy listening book. He does different voices for the people he quotes, speaks in multiple languages, and adds little quirks that, to me, have become trademark Trevor Noah. Rating him as a narrator independent from the actual story, I’d give him 5 stars.

Final thoughts: I really enjoyed this audiobook. I think it would be great on its own, if you aren’t into audiobooks, but his narration really adds something special. I’m now really interested in audiobooks from authors who had very different experiences for me. There’s something about hearing it in their own voice that adds more life to their story. I also want to say, that even if you don’t watch The Daily Show for whatever reason, this book isn’t loaded with political commentary. So it’s still a great read.

This is a great video posted by Audible.com where he talks about his writing process!

 

Goodreads rating: 4.57/5

Audible.com rating: 4.9/5

My rating: 4.75/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

“…life always takes the side of life, and somehow the victims are blamed. But it wasn’t the best people who survived, nor did the best ones die. It was random!”

maus

Synopsis from GoodreadsThe Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist coming to terms with his father’s story. Maus approaches the unspeakable through the diminutive. Its form, the cartoon (the Nazis are cats, the Jews mice), shocks us out of any lingering sense of familiarity and succeeds in “drawing us closer to the bleak heart of the Holocaust” (The New York Times). Maus is a haunting tale within a tale. Vladek’s harrowing story of survival is woven into the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father. Against the backdrop of guilt brought by survival, they stage a normal life of small arguments and unhappy visits. This astonishing retelling of our century’s grisliest news is a story of survival, not only of Vladek but of the children who survive even the survivors. Maus studies the bloody pawprints of history and tracks its meaning for all of us.

Feelings: It’s really interesting to see Vladek’s point of view, no only during the war, but before it as well – long before it. He tells his son about his own father’s military experiences in Siberia (where he pulled out 14 of his teeth in order to escape) and how he and Art’s mother met. I was intrigued by what all Vladek had to do in order to avoid the Gestapo. He and Anja had to beg, barter, borrow, and more just to try and survive, constantly being on the move and being incredibly afraid.

What’s really special about this collection of comics is that vulnerability. The author is also a character in the book, discussing his insecurities about trying to write his parents’ truth, which he says was, “a reality that was worse than [his] darkest dreams.” You see him struggling to get the complex reality down on paper and then doing so in a compelling and moving way. The art style itself was really simple. I had just finished a book club where we had read a superhero comic book, discussing the funny anecdotes in the backgrounds of all the panels, like hidden gems. With Maus, though, there were no distractions. The focus was on the storyline, itself, with nothing hidden in the artwork that you needed to closely inspect.

Issues: Art and his father were both so awful to Mala! They were hateful both to her face and behind her back. At the same time, though, she was pretty awful right back toward them. What a strange dynamic.

It was really difficult to get through the sections about gas chambers in Auschwitz. I think it was harder to read about this topic in a comic book setting because of the visuals. It’s one thing to imagine it in your head and it’s another to actually see it drawn out in front of you. As difficult as it was to see, I appreciate that Spiegelman didn’t hide any truths from his readers.

Characters: Vladek reminded me of my grandfather. Now, my grandfather didn’t go through the Holocaust or anything remotely like it, but he was frugal. He placed a high value in making smart monetary choices, all for the betterment of those he’d leave behind when he passed. The cinching of the purse strings frustrated Vladek’s wife, which is something that felt familiar,as well. Also, I liked the way Vladek’s dialogue was written. I could hear him in my head very clearly, accent and all.

I felt for Art. He had a hard relationship with his father, struggling to understand the history that shaped his father. He also wrestled with the death of the older brother he never knew, who died during the war, as well as the loss of his mother. This book focuses a lot on relationships – both with family and with others.

Final thoughts: It’s hard to describe my feelings towards this book. I didn’t necessarily “enjoy” reading this book, because it deals with a heavy subject. If you’re looking for something that’ll lift your spirits and make you laugh, go elsewhere. But if you want to read something that shows you a whole new narrative on a history you thought you knew, this is the read for you. I’m glad that I read it.

Pick this up if you liked:

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore

Goodreads rating: 4.51/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.6/5

My rating: 4.5/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn