May Book Club: "Born a Crime"

"Born a Crime," by Trevor Noah

My book club never fails to surprise me with the variety of its selections. Mysteries, domestic dramas, historical fiction, romance (I'm looking at you, Liz Kelly).

This month, it's Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah.

Noah, whom you may recognize as the host of "The Daily Show", was literally born a crime in apartheid South Africa, a place and time of such opposition to races mixing that Noah could visit his white father only indoors and Noah's black mother often had to pretend he wasn't her child.

Structured as a nonlinear set of stories from Noah's youth, Born a Crime paints a picture of a child whose revered mother ensured her son learned resilience and independence and, most of all, a sense of unlimited potential in a world that saw no such potential in him.

Why this is a good book club book?

Apartheid was going on when Nirvana released their debut album. When "Seinfeld" first aired. That was, like, yesterday. The after effects are still felt in South Africa, but the recentness of it anywhere in the world goes straight to any questions of whether extreme racism can still exist today and how past oppression can affect future generations. (The answers are (a) yes and (b) a person could write a thesis on that.)

As horrific as state-sponsored oppression is, Noah writes with wit and wisdom how humans can survive in these conditions and, with (unfortunately rare) support and opportunities, escape them.

What support and opportunities do we give our own children? Do we give these to others who may not otherwise have access? Things worth discussing, which is what book clubs are all about. That and wine, but that was my other post.

Additional reading, watching, listening . . .

This is definitely a rabbit hole book. I knew the sketches of apartheid just from being educated and generally aware. Noah's book helps to show parallels of the South African experience and the U.S. experience for people of color. But there's so much Noah presents that begs for further inquiry.

For Born a Crime, the rabbit hole starts with these (all of which stand alone even if you don't read Born a Crime):


The Hate U Give This debut novel hit the shelves with rare excitement this year. Author Angie Thomas tells the story of 16-year-old Starr, an African-American girl who witnesses an unarmed friend gunned down by police. This visceral but accessible look at the life of an African American teen in the 2010s is one that I'm passing along to my teenager to read now that I've finished it.


"Tsotsi" About a black teen in South Africa, facing the fallout of a carjacking gone wrong, this movie won the Academy Award for Foreign Language Film in 2006. So many elements of Born a Crime make an appearance in this heartbreaking movie, it's uncanny. Filmed in Soweto and Johannesburg and featuring actors speaking Zulu and Xhosa and Afrikaans and English, it's a must see for readers of the book. Bring tissues (seriously).


"Soweto Uprising" This 9-minute episode from BBC World Service gives voice to one of the Soweto schoolgirls* who led a 1976 protest against having to learn Afrikaans in school. It took decades more to shut down apartheid in South Africa, but this uprising was a pivotal moment in the effort. You can listen to this episode on iTunes here or find it at BBC World Service here. *Side note: The Syrian war was sparked by a teenager who spray-painted an anti-regime message on the wall of his school in southern Syria.

#bookclub #book #criminaljustice #racism #law