A few weeks ago, my boyfriend was going out for drinks with a friend at a local bookstore and cafe. I was invited, but am a total homebody and told him have fun, but bring me a book. He brought back Born a Crime and Neil Gaiman's new nonficton, The View from the Cheap Seats. Born a Crime was shorter, so I started that first.
Born a Crime is exclusively about Noah's life before he left South Africa, and it's largely about his life before he got into comedy--comedy is only mentioned a handful of times, at best. The majority of the book takes place during his childhood and teens, when he lived with his mother and, later, his stepfather and younger brother. During his early childhood, apartheid was still in effect in South Africa, and later on its effects were still being felt even after it was officially abolished. As a mixed-race child (black South African mother, white Swedish/German father) Noah was literally born a crime, and his anecdotes are about race, discrimination, and the fluidity of identity during apartheid and after. As a mostly basic white girl, these things were fascinating to read about, because it's a culture I will never be a part of, but something I dearly want to understand in order to be a more educated, worldly, and tolerant individual.
Floating around in the background of many of the anecdotes is Noah's home life, which practically vanishes from the page after his mother marries his stepfather. This lends a very strange dynamic to the book, because you can tell there's something to do with that, and abuse, floating around in the background, but it seems like Noah's avoiding it. Which is totally his right, if wants to, but it's a strange feel. Well, he's not avoiding it. He comes out with it all in the last chapter of the book, and I can see why. While much of the book has touching moments, that final chapter is definitely the one with the strongest emotional impact. It adds so much context that was missing in the rest of the book and makes a lot of things much clearer in hindsight.
Noah has an extremely readable style. While he's a comedian, this book is frequently poignant rather than laugh-out-loud funny, though a few of his signature jokes are in there--like how, during apartheid, he couldn't walk with his mother when police were around because mixed-race relationships were illegal, and when cops would appear she would drop him like a bag of weed so that they wouldn't be harassed. Each chapter is prefaced by a shorter section that says something about apartheid and how it affected and still affects the people in South Africa. He shows both how far South Africa has come, and how far it still has to go, in a variety of ways--from racial equality (not that the United States is exactly a beacon of excellence in this area) to things such as basic sanitation. But at the same time, he includes touching stories of his relationship with his mother (this book was infinitely better than Maya Angelou's Mom & Me & Mom in that regard) and of finding himself. It's a great book, an easy read but one that packs a punch at the same time in a lot of areas, and I highly recommend it.
5 stars out of 5.