Born a Crime by Trevor Noah – book discussion

I had never read a non-fiction text before, nor had I ever listened to an audio-book before, so to kick start 2019, I listened to my first non-fiction audio-book. I didn’t know what to expect but I was both excited and nervous. It was a really weird experience, having someone speak to me for 12 hours of a book, but it was also really enjoyable. I have become a big fan of the audio-book.

Onto the discussion!

Spoiler alert!

“Language brings with it an identity and a culture, or at least the perception of it. A shared language says “We’re the same.” A language barrier says “We’re different.”
— Trevor Noah (Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood)

So the book takes us through Noah’s childhood in South Africa, having lived through the country’s exit from apartheid and all the issues it was facing whilst trying to build itself back up. This is really hard to review, because it is not a literary work of art battling to be canonised, and as my first non-fiction book EVER I don’t know what I am looking for to criticise it, so this is much more a discussion of the ideas presented in the book rather than a review of it. Just so you all know, I truly believe this is LITERARY GOALS, I loved it, he Noah created great images with his choice of vocabulary, the inclusion of the multiple languages and dialects added to the message he was trying to portray, and also worked as a form of inviting the audience and alienating them sufficiently. It was just amazing, but onto the important things.

The first thing I want to point out is a bit controversial, is that Trevor Noah discusses the way in which history is portrayed. By this I mean, he states that in Africa, European history is taught in facts, for example WW2: there was Hitler, he hated the Jews, he started the war, the war ended. Done. He then explains that this is very similar to the way in which apartheid was portrayed to Europeans. And to top it off, he points out that the mass killing in WW2 still shocks a lot of people, where as apartheid does not seem to and he mentions the fact that the killings in WW2 were documented, but apartheid weren’t so the scale of the crisis is never accurate because it is based on the news that has been portrayed. Just to clarify, I think they are both awful events in the history of mankind, but I can see how the two stories have been portrayed so differently, how a western eye looks at these events so differently, and I can see it because until my eyes were open, I too saw it through that lens.

He also spoke about language, and the importance the true importance of having a language barrier. In a place like South Africa where there are countless different tongues cross paths daily in one city, in one whole country, I can only imagine the importance of knowing, understanding to achieve a sense of belonging. People are easily alienated when understanding is not achieved. I know this because people have felt alienated when my family and I have spoken in Portuguese, I know this because people have sought to alienate me when they thought that I couldn’t speak English. I know this because when I went travelling, locals in South and Central America were put at ease when I mingled with them in their own language, engaged with them truly with my own voice and no third party translating our communication. Noah was right, language is a force to be reckoned with. The strength of desire of belonging, he vocalises the fears that people would have of alienation, and how he so easily belonged in so many places, in which his skin would have segregated him but his understanding allowed him to be a part of it.

“Nelson Mandela once said, ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’ He was so right. When you make the effort to speak someone else’s language, even if it’s just basic phrases here and there, you are saying to them, ‘I understand that you have a culture and identity that exists beyond me. I see you as a human being”
— Trevor Noah (Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood)

Finally, I want to discuss Noah’s perspective on religion. South Africa was ripe with religious imagery, whether it was Catholicism/Christianity or the beliefs that African tribes had in which they venerated their ancestors, South Africa’s societal backbone was religion. Noah goes onto explain that in South Africa, Christianity had become a mix of the roman belief with the ancestral respect the African tribes possessed, this was something I recognised from my visits in Mexico, where many Christian churches celebrated both the father of Jesus, its saints and their ancestors. The parallels that Noah draws between the idea of a savage, a primitive and someone who is logical in their belief is quite fascinating. He points out that many frown upon this combination, and that externally their beliefs might be seen as odd, but beliefs are personal and that is the beauty of it.

“If you’re Native American and you pray to the wolves, you’re a savage. If you’re African and you pray to your ancestors, you’re a primitive. But when white people pray to a guy who turns water into wine, well, that’s just common sense.”
— Trevor Noah (Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood)

There were so many more thoughts that this book provoked, but I couldn’t possibly place them all here. This is something I highly recommend reading. I have always thought of myself as someone who truly accepts and loves the whole world and all their cultures, and I continue to believe that of myself, but I also know that I was naive, like so many others. Even though I know these things happened, perhaps I was blindly pretending that the tragedy, the truth behind them was not as bad as I knew it to be.

A final thought, in the midst of this beautiful book, it has been very smartly crafted. Noah is careful of the words he uses to put across his message, his truth. He doesn’t intend to offend anyone who has been blinded, or hoodwinked for so long, but to open your minds to other truths. After all, truths are entirely subjective, but we are all capable of seeing other’s realities too.

 

This non-fiction masterpiece can be found on Amazon, Waterstones and other stores I am sure. I listened to it on Audible, expertly narrated by Noah himself!


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