Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
I'm looking forward to our discussion of Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. Suggested discussion questions are below. Please feel free to bring ideas for February's pick.
Drop us a line and let us know if we can hope to see you!
1. Has anyone heard him in person? How does his writing compare?
2. Is this comedy? What comedic techniques does he use? Did you laugh? (Cats, 93)
3. What surprised you in learning about apartheid and its ending? Two brief descriptions: "The triumph of democracy over apartheid is sometimes called the Bloodless Revolution...very little white blood was spilled. Black blood ran in the streets." (12) "In America you had the forced removal of the native onto reservations coupled with slavery followed by segregation. Imagine all three of those happening to the same group of people at the same time. That was apartheid." (22)
4. How did his upbringing affect his path and career choice later in life? I am reading Endurance by Scott Kelly in which Kelly muses that criminals breed peacemakers. Is this another cause and effect like that -- where terror in childhood breeds the need for laughter? The terrorized child becomes the comedian? "Run and hide. I knew that as a five-year-old." (16). And, of course, the story ends with his mother making a joke while in the ICU.
5. What do you make of his mother and her stubbornness? Understandable? Or unreasonable? "Why didn't we just leave?" (31)
6. What were your first impressions of the title and cover, and how did those change as he described in chapter 2 what it meant to be born a crime? ("It was illegal to be mixed (to have a black parent and a white parent), but it was not illegal to be colored (to have two parents who were both colored)." 28)
7. What do you think of the format -- alternating history with his childhood stories? (I sort of wanted an index or timeline reference page for the history lessons.)
8. What's Trevor's take on religion? To me, he seems critical but not disrespectful.
9. Where did Trevor's family find hope? "The story of Soweto is the story of the driveways. It's a hopeful place." (42)
10. How many could be so calm and clever under pressure? Like his mom in the minibus or his mom in the shop and he avoiding a mugging. (55)
11. What makes him change from wanting granny's cookies (53, taking white privilege) to deciding to be black and take the B classes (59, choosing to be black)?
12. What do you make of his mom's choice to give him a name with no meaning so that he would be "beholden to no fate" (67)? What does your name mean? Has that name ever felt like a burden or self-fulfilling prophecy?
13. What does it mean to be raised as a certain race? He says his mom "raised me like a white kid" (73) but later also describing a portion of "the talk", saying she used corporal punishment because she was "trying to discipline [him] before the system... 'I need to do this to you before the police do it to you.' Because that's all black parents are thinking from the day you're old enough to walk out into the street, where the law is waiting" (227).
14. Isn't it amazing how we can get two very different pictures of something and both can be true? Compare the opening sentences of chapters 5 and 6 (pages 63 and 77): "My mother used to tell me, 'I chose to have you because I wanted something to love and something that would love me unconditionally in return -- and then I gave birth to the most selfish piece of shit on earth and all it ever did was cry and eat and shit and say, 'Me, me, me, me me.'"
15. What do you make of his mother's discipline techniques? He says she never left him in doubt of why he was being punished (84). What do you think?
16. Why do you think he ordered the stories in this way? Which of his stories do you find most compelling and why?
17. Is there an arc to this book? What are the threads woven through? I.e. his relationship with his mother, her choices; how his stepdad's actions and anger grew over time to alter their lives; crime -- first, born a crime, then, without his own "fishing rod" to make his way in the world, he began a life of crime (209).
18. After reading about all of the atrocities he witnessed in his young life, how is it that a house can burn down and he's able to walk away unpunished? (90-1)
19. Did you ever imagine you could feel betrayed by a pet? (100)
20. How could he not cry when his dad Robert pulled out the scrapbook? (109) I cried!
21. Did Robert have something to hide? Which means more -- knowing a person's personality or knowing the facts of their lives?
22. The money situation doesn't add up for me -- having to push the car to save gas but sometimes getting a new bicycle -- or having pocket change to buy a card and teddy bear and flowers for Valentine's Day but having to eat caterpillars. Or maybe it's just confusing the way he wrote it -- sometimes they had money; sometimes they didn't.
23. What do you make of the "curse of the colored people" and how that affects him as a "mixed" boy trying to fit into different group? He says he's mixed (but looks like Maylene in the V-day chapter) but he's not part of the colored click, like in high school (138) or at his court hearing (239-241). "The curse the colored people carry is having no clearly defined heritage to go back to....The history of colored people in South Africa is, in this respect, worse than the history of black people in South Africa. For all that black people have suffered, they know who they are. Colored people don't." (115-116)
24. Didn't you want to know what happened to Teddy after he was expelled? (59) Were the staff and officers really that color blind or were they protecting Trevor?
25. What did you make of his description of how history is taught in Germany, the USA and South Africa? (83)
26. How unbelievable is it that in today's global society we can be so cocooned in our own world views? (194-5) Cecil Rhodes only lived to age 42 (1853-1902) but is described as a white supremacist and an "architect of apartheid" in South Africa. King Leopold of Belgium's atrocities against the people of the Congo in the name of ivory, rubber and mineral exports between 1885-1908 led to the death of about 50% of the population (estimates of 10-20 million people).
27. Do we need to number atrocities or write down the stories in some way in order to be horrified by them? (195-6) This is particularly striking to me after just finishing We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter which was all about the numbers as she narrates her Jewish family's survival of the Holocaust in Poland.
28. In what ways do we create our own boundaries and borders like apartheid created the hood? "We live in a world where we don't see the ramifications of what we do to others, because we don't live with them." (222)
29. Why could Trevor leave the hood but the others couldn't? Why couldn't they get another address? (224)
30. How brave is his confession that he hesitated paying for his mom's hospital bill?
31. Can you believe his mother's strength? That she can wake up "frail and weak" in the ICU and yet immediately soothe her son with the words "It's going to be all right" and then make him laugh (281-2).
32. Did you cry at the end? I did. I hope my boys thank me as much for my comparatively little sacrifices. I hope I can love them enough to keep parenting even if I am mortally injured
It was so nice to see you last Friday night.
As part of an icebreaker question this past Friday night we attempted to answer the hard question "what is your favorite book?". Please click here to see titles near and dear to our hearts.
Thank you for a educational and honest discussion of Trevor Noah's Born a Crime. We found it a surprisingly light and compelling read given the challenging topic of apartheid. And we were relieved to read a description of a beautiful parent-child relationship! We recommend this book if you haven't gotten to it yet.
I confessed that I hadn't heard of Cecil Rhodes prior to reading this book, whom Trevor Noah refers to as South Africa's Hitler and who founded the Rhodes Scholarship in 1902.
I had, however, recently learned about King Leopold and how his atrocities against the people of the Congo are still felt today.
A few months ago my son and I attended an event about the Congo at our church. The discussion was first led by one of my pastor's adoptive Congolese teenagers. He has eleven adoptive children, three of whom are Congolese. She described the history of the Congo, how Rwanda's genocide led to wars in the Congo, and how war led to her living in a refugee camp for ten years prior to being adopted.
I then learned that through the cooperation of World Vision (a Christian humanitarian organization), Global Unites (a Sri Lankan-based non-profit that works to engage youth from war-torn countries in peace talks) and the Evangelical Covenant Church (the denomination my church is part of), the Congolese people are directing efforts to revitalize the economy in the midst of political turmoil. They are providing food, clean water, access to education, medical clinics and are even planting tens of thousands of trees to revitalize regions for farming. They are a few years into a 15 year plan to give tribes a boost toward sustainability.
At the end of such a powerful morning I was convicted to sponsor a child...which in actuality, sponsors an entire family, and the funds are really used in a communal way, because in Congolese culture, community is everything. Since we had recently buried our dog and I was grieving at the time, I picked a child with the same birth month as Sanibel as a way to remember her beautiful life.
Is this modern day colonialism? I hope not. Will my $39 a month change the world? No. But I hope though the aggregated efforts of many, we can bring hope to a few.
We can't right all the world's wrongs. But I'd love to continue to discuss them with you! And for February we are going to continue our theme of cultural studies. One of you asked for a book about adult siblings and aunt relationships, and you shall have it all in the Young family -- one that certainly never had to eat caterpillars to survive! Please join us next month as we discuss Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. Enjoy the movie as well if you like!
Hope to see you there!
The Tipsy Mamas' Book Club is co-hosted by Corinne Foster and myself, though the spirit of our discussions is flavored by many readers.