Born A Crime: Stories From A South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

At the moment my two favorite comedians, and also the main faces of my Facebook newsfeed, are Trevor Noah and Shayne Smith. Shayne Smith tells jokes that have me rolling on the floor laughing because I can either relate, or because they’re just totally absurd. But Trevor Noah, even when he makes a joke, he makes me think. And I love that. His life experiences are so vastly different from anything I could ever imagine, and everyone will have different opinions on this, but to me, his perspective usually feels so…just all-encompassing and well-thought. I feel like he is able to give credit to and kindly acknowledge multiple view points on each issue while giving his own such that I have to be careful to not just accept everything he says as true. I took this picture below from off his daily show website (it had a little “download” button right on it, so hopefully that’s okay! *fingers crossed*

So, when I saw that he had written a book about his childhood, I HAD TO get it from the library and finished reading it in just a few days.

PC: Gavin Bond

Trevor Noah was born in Johannesburg, South Africa (the first image in this post shows the Johannesburg skyline), and “Born A Crime” is the story of how he maneuvered apartheid as a total outcast of the system – not really black, not really white, and not comfortable pretending to be like the other “colored” people that looked like him. Not only that, but in “a woman’s world” where he had no good male role models shares the things he learned from the ladies in his life, and the religion that filled their life.

I can’t say enough good things about this book, the sense of humor amid some deep and disturbing circumstances, the way he thinks about apartheid and people in general, and all the little lessons he squeezes in throughout the book. The book manages to lace abuse, tragedy, humor, love, faith and all the complicated overlap of those things together.

He describes himself as a naughty child, and has the stories to prove it, but I especially appreciated a moment in the book when he took a step back to defend children who’s parents struggle to discipline them, try as they might. He explains that family considered him destructive as a child, but he never intentionally destroyed anything. He just was trying to figure out how things worked. And often broke things in the process. Like in a very minor incident when his mom became upset at him for drawing on the walls, he felt terrible and vowed to never disappoint his mom by doing this thing again. But how would he remember not to do it?? Oh! He could write a note to himself on the wall, of course! And there he was, right back at the wall with a crayon. I found this so insightful into my own son’s little brain, and think that every reader will find themselves at some point in this book caught between realizations of your own misled thoughts/reactions to people, and simultaneously laughing at the presentation of his many schemes and predicaments.

I definitely recommend this book, especially to people who struggle with thoughts of racism, of feelings of being outcasts, who search for miracles, and to those who just love a good read.

The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantu

The grandson of a Mexican immigrant, Cantu struggles to understand his family’s relationship with the U.S. Mexico border patrol by joining the border patrol itself! As a Mexican-American studied in the international issues, with a tender heart, and the necessary Spanish skills, he hopes to be able to bring some kindness to the families being turned back at the border while helping establish justice and fair rules. He wants to know where and if there is a balance between the two. So the story starts there – leaving his schooling to pursue training on the ground as a border patrol agent. In part two, he is transferred to an intelligence position, which gives the audience a look into a second aspect of how the border patrol runs. Finally, having stepped away from the border patrol after a few years of service, Cantu learns that a wonderful friend has been detained after trying to cross the border and has to decide what he can do to help the family.

Next to the man it reads: “For (To) a world without walls”
Photo by Max Böhme on Unsplash

I honestly can’t imagine a better method of addressing this issue than what Cantu has accomplished. He mixes his schooling and research on the matter, his family and personal demons, as well as his professional experiences into a really beautiful illustration of what has been occurring at the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Not only is he articulate but there’s something really poetic and simple in his style that just sucked me in and made it all so much more emotional to read. I especially love the way he maintains his identity and culture by unashamedly weaving in bits of Spanish conversations without translation throughout the book.

I also appreciate that I kept waiting and waiting for him to give his solution, or any solution, or for him to just call out a problem and curse it for its awfulness. But he doesn’t. The voice in my head that I’ve created for Francisco Cantu speaks with a softness, and sometimes is sad, but never accusatory, crude or judgemental. And because of this, as I read I felt like I was able to make my own decisions about what needs to change and be done. What is working well already and what has shown improvement.

And after watching this video now, I think I’m mostly right about my choices in his voice. Here’s his similarly short synopsis and invitation to read the book:

The Beekeeper

January now officially kicks each new year off with National Human Trafficking Awareness Month! And as such, it seems like appropriate a time as ever to catch up on some book reviews, namely “The Beekeeper”.

Photo by Akira Hojo on Unsplash

This book is a true story, and one filled with true horrors. With that being said, I want to share a quote from a book called “Slave Stealers” by Tim Ballard before getting into this.

“Do you have children, Tim?”

“Yes,” I responded, my eyes matching the intensity I was reading in his.

“Then let me ask you something….” He hesitated. He must have known the question was somewhat cruel. But he went forward with it anyway.

“Could you get in bed and sleep at night, knowing that one of your children’s beds was empty?”I knew the answer was no, but I couldn’t get the word out, as instant tears and emotion blocked my ability to vocalize. I just shook my head.

“Slave Stealers”, pg 56, Tim Ballard

Books like this can be hard to digest, but Tim Ballard argues that if we don’t learn how to make it personal- imagining our own children and recognizing that the victims are real children of other heartbroken parents – and act as if our own families and loved ones were on the line, then this criminal market will never end. So in the parts when your heart and tear ducts start to swell at the same rate, and you think you’d rather just not finish, consider for a minute why you feel that way and what you can do. It might just be a defining moment in the start to someone’s rescue.

“The Beekeeper” is based on true stories from Abdullah Shrem, a beekeeper working to help liberate Yazidi women kidnapped by Daesh (aka ISIS), who through many means and people escape. He tells their stories in hopes of bringing light to the problem and to “rally the troops,” so to speak, against ISIS.

But for all the horrors, this book is very interestingly written, leaving no words to the author alone, but always quoting verbatim the conversations she had with the beekeeper and others involved in the rescues or being rescued.

If you’d like to learn more about the author and Abdullah Shrem (the beekeeper), then you can also check out this PBS News Hour Report and interview with her!