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1-Page Summary of Born a Crime
Trevor Noah’s memoir is a comedic autobiography about his childhood in South Africa. It details the challenges he faced growing up as a mixed race child, and it became a New York Times Bestseller. The film rights to this book have been sold, and the adaptation of Born A Crime will soon be released. In addition to being funny, this book offers interesting facts that are related to each chapter’s content.
The memoir focuses on Noah’s childhood and young adult life. He describes apartheid as a purposeful, deliberate form of government-imposed segregation and racism; essentially, it was an attempt to make South Africa white. The effects of apartheid were so deeply ingrained in the people that they persisted even after apartheid officially ended.
Apartheid ended when Noah was a child. This meant that he could interact with people of all races, but the cliques within each school were still segregated. For much of his memoir, Noah focuses on this idea of segregation and how it affected him personally. He always felt divided because he is half-black and half-white under apartheid in South Africa; legally, he would be classified as non-white. However, over time, he realizes that although legally black or colored (a term used to describe mixed race people), his identity is actually more closely tied to being black than any other label. His perspective changes based on who he interacts with and where they are from throughout his memoirs.
The book starts off with Noah’s childhood, but it soon transitions into his adult life. He is always searching for identity and belonging, which he finds in different places throughout the story. For example, when Noah visits his mother’s family in Soweto (a government-sanctioned ghetto), he feels like an outsider because he is one of the only white people there. However, when Noah visits his father in a wealthy neighborhood that is mostly white, he feels like an outsider because there are no other non-white people around. After high school, Noah spends time living in Alexandra (a poor all-black neighborhood) where once again he doesn’t fit in with the other kids because they perceive him as either too black or too white. The exception to this pattern occurs during their move to a “colored” area; however even then Noah does not feel like he fits in with those kids either since they view him as being both too black and too white at the same time. Throughout these examples we can see how much pressure society puts on individuals to conform to narrow definitions of race and ethnicity—even within communities that contain multiple races and ethnicities!
Full Summary of Born a Crime
Trevor Noah’s memoir is about his childhood and adolescence. He talks about the history and culture of South Africa, as well as his life story.
Trevor Noah’s mother, Patricia, is born in South Africa. She belongs to the Xhosa tribe and her parents are divorced when she’s young. Her father leaves for another family and her mother has to raise two kids on her own. Patricia is sent away from home at a young age to live with relatives who don’t have much money or education. However, she still manages to get an education and works as a secretary; she saves up all of her money so that she can move out by herself into an apartment in Johannesburg where she meets Robert, a white man who becomes friends with her. Wanting children of his own but not being able to have them because he’s married already, Robert agrees to help Patricia start a new family by having sex with each other without contraception (which was illegal). They give birth to Trevor Noah; Trevor is mixed race since it’s also illegal for people from different races/ethnicities in South Africa during that time period.
Although both Patricia and Robert have to be careful of how they treat Trevor because of apartheid, he remembers a happy childhood. He grew up in a small flat and then moved to Eden Park, which was primarily colored. His father visited him every week and he also spent time with his mother’s family in Soweto, the Black neighborhood. He was rambunctious as a child so his mother often disciplined him strictly but they also had an extremely close relationship. She encouraged Trevor to think for himself by asking questions and challenging rules at school. She gave him ambition by getting him enrolled in private Catholic school although he would get into trouble there for questioning authority.
Trevor is about six years old when his mother meets a man named Abel. The two of them get married, and then Trevor has a half-brother named Andrew. Because he doesn’t like Abel, Trevor visits his father less often. His relationship with Robert deteriorates over time until Robert moves to Cape Town when Trevor is thirteen years old. Around this time, Trevor gets kicked out of Catholic school and starts attending H.A. Jack, where students don’t intermingle much because they’re from different races and backgrounds. This makes it clear that he feels most comfortable around Black people but doesn’t fit in well with any specific group at the new school—he’s either too black for colored folks or too white for Blacks—and so he rarely has close friends and is bullied by others who are trying to find their place in the world as well..
Trevor’s life improves after he begins high school. His family, however, continues to experience problems. Trevor’s stepfather loses his business and starts drinking heavily. The family moves to a different neighborhood in order to avoid more financial troubles. Patricia still supports the household by working full-time while her husband drinks even more and becomes abusive towards the rest of the family. Trevor is interested in starting his own businesses but is unsuccessful at attracting girls until later on in high school when he makes money from other students’ lunch orders and eventually sells pirated CDs out of his car that become popular with classmates for their low cost (and illegal nature).
When Trevor finishes high school, he doesn’t have a clear plan for the future. He can’t afford to go to university and has only found work in his CD business and as a DJ. This leads him to spending more time in Alexandra, an impoverished neighborhood dominated by petty crime. By this time, tensions between Trevor and Abel have led Trevor to move into his own apartment. The relationship between Patricia and Abel has deteriorated, yet she is still living with him; however, they are no longer together romantically. When Patricia becomes pregnant again at age forty-three (Trevor is twenty-one), he feels hurt that her husband isn’t helping out financially or contributing anything towards raising the children. He starts spending less time with his mother after this because of it as well as other reasons such as starting up his career which takes off quickly for him over the next few years so he’s too busy focusing on that instead of family matters like visiting them often or talking about what’s going on in their lives when they’re not around each other much anymore since he’s doing better now than before which also helps distance himself from them emotionally since there are things that could potentially bring back bad memories if brought up while having fun with them at times but it doesn’t mean he loves them any less regardless of how many bad experiences they’ve had together growing up nor does it mean one should stop loving someone just because something terrible happens during your life even if you don’t like them sometimes either especially if you know deep down inside somewhere anyone can love anybody else despite how much pain they might cause you whether intentionally or unintentionally when arguing about certain issues but people learn throughout life from their mistakes unfortunately some never do though so be careful who you get involved with whether friends/family members/romantic partners etc…
One day, Trevor receives a phone call informing him that his brother Abel shot their mother. He rushes to her side and pays for her medical expenses. Patricia is only injured slightly, but the incident brings them closer together. Unfortunately, Abel gets away with it because he serves only probation instead of jail time.
Trevor Noah begins his memoir by explaining how the apartheid system in South Africa relied on creating artificial divisions between people to maintain control. He then identifies two main groups: Zulus and Xhosas. The Zulus were combative, while the Xhosas used political strategy. These differences led to increased tension between the groups after apartheid ended, which resulted in violence among different African tribes once they gained independence from European colonialism.
Noah then recounts an event from his childhood. He was thrown out of a moving car by his mother when he was nine years old, and she wasn’t afraid to do it because she knew that Noah would obey her even though he didn’t want to. His mother wanted him to go with her on Sunday morning, so they used the minibus system instead of taking a regular bus. The author states that this is how Noah’s mom taught him respect for authority figures; therefore, although he disliked going on the minibus system with all those poor people who were forced to use public transportation, he did what his mom said anyway because she demanded it.
In South Africa, tensions were high between the Xhosa and Zulu tribes. The fall of apartheid had put them into a power struggle, so violence was frequent. Noah’s mother still insisted on going about her daily life with him and his sister despite this violence. One day at church they found themselves far from home without any way to get back since their driver left before everyone else did. They got into another minibus with an angry driver who didn’t want to pick up more people than he could take, but they ended up getting in anyway because the other bus was leaving soon too and there weren’t many options for transportation anywhere nearby either. When they got onto that second bus, the driver started threatening them and insulting them until it felt like he might hurt them or something worse would happen if they stayed on there anymore so Noah’s mom pushed him out of the door when it slowed down while she jumped out with her baby in her arms then ran over to a gas station where she called police for help.
Noah pauses to provide additional historical context for the South African political situation: in the 17th century, Dutch colonists established a trading presence and began oppressing the native population. They were later replaced by British settlers who drove away the original Dutch settlers. The Africans eventually got their freedom after which they returned to power and enacted apartheid—a systematic approach to controlling Black people.
Noah was born into a system of apartheid. It was illegal for him to exist because his parents were from different races, and it was also illegal for them to be together. His mother’s rebellious nature is evident in her decision to have Noah and live outside the law by renting an apartment when she couldn’t legally do so.
While living in her new apartment, Patricia convinces Robert to have a child with her but promises him that he will not be responsible for it. He becomes Noah’s father and wants to play an active role in his son’s life. However, Noah is light-skinned and so she hides the fact that he is mixed race from everyone except his grandparents who live in Soweto.
Noah continues to reflect on his childhood. He mostly grew up around women, with few male role models. This is part of a wider pattern in which the structures of apartheid fragmented many families. For many of the women Noah observed growing up, a fervent religious belief functioned as a way to cope with their immense responsibility they had to shoulder. One day at age five he decided to defecate on newspaper rather than going out into an outhouse; however, his blind great-grandmother noticed suspicious sounds and smells and alerted his mother and grandmother who became convinced that a demon had entered the house. Noah never admits that he was responsible for this incident but says it made him realize how important religion was for his family members’ survival under harsh circumstances
The opening of this memoir highlights the way Noah will interweave his own personal history with that of South Africa. He is telling a story about himself to an audience who likely already knows him as a comedian and actor, but he’s also giving them information on South African history and apartheid. By combining these two things, he can reach more people and provide additional context for how laws played out in everyday life. Moreover, Noah’s anecdotes offer readers another perspective on how history can be presented because it shows what happened during historical events from someone else’s point of view instead of just listing facts or famous names. Since Noah is also a celebrity, he has unique insight into how his fans think about him and why they’re interested in learning more about him—so this book harnesses “the ambivalent emotional currents underlying the cultural fascination with both life narratives…and celebrity” (Mayer & Novak 150) to tell not only his own story but also the tumultuous story of a specific nation.
In order to tell his own story, Noah has to spend a lot of time talking about his mother. She’s going to be an important character in the book because she played a big role in many key events in his life. More than most mothers, Patricia made some very deliberate choices that set up her son for an unusual life. Patricia refused to let apartheid dictate her decisions or cultural norms define who she was as a person. She wanted to have a child of her own and didn’t allow the rules of society stop her from doing so even though it meant having mixed-race children and bringing them into the world knowing they’d face challenges due their race. Noah is grateful for Patricia’s courage and celebrates how she followed what was right for herself even if it wasn’t easy or accepted by others at first.
The first few chapters of the book are set up to show how Noah uses humorous or dramatic episodes to give a personal insight into South African life. Although apartheid was meant to allow white colonial powers to dominate and oppress non-white populations, much of the day-to-day tension that he experiences comes from tensions between different non-white groups. The memoir’s first episode shows him, his mother, and his baby brother endangered not by white men but by Black men who belong to a different tribe. One of the particularly toxic consequences of colonialism and apartheid was the way it led to power struggles between groups who were simultaneously being oppressed by white ruling elites. Since apartheid ends when Noah is quite young, his early life is more impacted by indirect fallout from violence and power struggles between different Black African groups than direct conflict with whites. He explains this reality in detail before giving an episode that vividly dramatizes it: when he’s thrown out of a moving car by his mother, showing both their humor in dangerous situations as well as making factual realities more memorable for readers.
The first few episodes of the show highlight Patricia’s role as a devout Christian. She was introduced to Christianity by colonialists and it may represent a tool of oppression, but on an individual level her faith has given her the courage to rebel against oppressive systems. For Patricia and others like her, Christianity is intertwined with traditional tribal spiritual beliefs. As Noah describes witchcraft in South Africa, he also mentions that people still go to church regularly and invoke Jesus through prayer. This fusing of religious beliefs represents Homi Bhaba’s theory of hybridity: “In thinking about religious hybridity,” Amardeep Singh explains, “the question is usually not whether or not someone converts to a foreign or imposed religious belief system, but how different belief systems interact with traditional and local cultural-religious frameworks.” In Noah’s world, Christianity coexists with colonialism because while it has been interwoven with pre-colonial beliefs about light skin being better than dark skin (because they’ve always seen images of Jesus depicted as white), his grandmother believes that his prayers are more effective because he is light skinned.
Noah uses a shared language to explain why people trust each other. He notes that aside from nationality, race and appearance, people generally trust others who can communicate easily with them in their own language. Growing up as a light-skinned child in an all-Black neighborhood gave him advantages but also made him feel different than the rest of his family. His mother taught him perfect English at an early age so he would have more opportunities later on in life. Noah’s mother was able to do this because she spoke multiple languages which allowed her flexibility and freedom over the course of her life. Being able to speak many different languages allowed Noah to fit into various groups who otherwise wouldn’t accept him as one of their own.
Noah begins his schooling at Maryvale Academy, a private Catholic school attended by children of all different races. In the sixth grade, Noah transfers to a public school where he is placed in classes for students who are more academically advanced than him. He notices that the Black students are attending classes for less-academically advanced students and decides to switch into these classes despite warnings from officials because he feels welcomed and experiences a sense of belonging with them.
Noah discusses the history of education for Black people in South Africa. Prior to apartheid, they had access to a quality education from European missionaries. Under apartheid, the government wanted to limit education for Blacks so they set up Bantu schools where Blacks were taught only rudimentary skills designated appropriate for low-skilled jobs they were expected to hold. Noah then recounts his mother’s personal history—she was sent away from her parents when she was young and lived on an isolated farm with her aunt, experiencing intense poverty but also receiving a good education at a local mission school. Her ambition drove her to obtain training and find work as a secretary, but she was expected to contribute most of her money toward supporting her family. Frustrated by this situation, Patricia made the decision to move alone with Noah (who would be born later) into Johannesburg where he could receive an excellent education.
As the country becomes more racially integrated, Patricia is able to live more openly as a colored woman with her son Noah. She and Noah move into Eden Park, a neighborhood occupied by both black and colored people. They also acquire a used car, which allows them to explore their surroundings. The freedom that they experience leads to fun adventures for both of them. Patricia’s relationship with Noah is complicated because he has high energy levels and likes to misbehave sometimes; however, she tries her best not to be too harsh on him when she disciplines him since she doesn’t want him growing up thinking that his mother isn’t loving or caring towards him. When Patricia gets frustrated trying to argue with her son about something he did wrong at school or elsewhere, she writes letters expressing how much pain it causes her when he does things like this—especially in public places where other people can see what he did wrong (and possibly judge his family). She uses corporal punishment on occasion but always makes sure that Noah knows why he was punished so that there’s no confusion between the two of them later on as adults about how they feel about each other after all these years together. Even though Noah feels like some religious beliefs are illogical (like God being an old man sitting somewhere above us), his mother sides with him instead of punishing him for questioning authority figures in the Catholic Church who don’t make sense based on logic alone. This eventually results in the expulsion from Catholic school; however, this event ultimately helps lead Noah toward attending public school instead.
One of Noah’s worst transgressions is when he and another boy use a magnifying glass and matches to burn words into pieces of wood. They leave the tools unattended, which sets a mattress on fire. The fire spreads to consume the entire house, but no one gets punished because Abel comes to live with him and his mother after being kicked out by the family.
Noah has a lot of advantages, including his linguistic fluency and education. He is multilingual, which helps him fit in with any group he needs to be part of. His mother taught him many languages because she wanted to give her son the freedom that she didn’t have growing up as a Black woman in South Africa. Noah also values confidence and personality over wealth or power. That’s one reason why he’s so successful; people want to work with someone who will treat them respectfully, regardless of their title or position within an organization.
Patricia has seen the positive effects of education on her life. She wants Noah to have access to a good school, but she also sees that attending a Catholic school will give him opportunities to challenge ideas and authority figures. Patricia is used to thinking for herself; therefore, she doesn’t mind if Noah challenges religious doctrine or authority figures at his school. In fact, it’s one of her goals as a mother that Noah can think for himself and express his opinions when he disagrees with someone else’s point of view.
Noah’s mother, Patricia, wants to support him and his confidence. She is a strong-willed woman who has raised her son with the same mentality. Noah embodies this spirit of nonconformity. He refuses to follow rules and constantly challenges authority figures in order to get what he wants. This rebellious nature can lead to conflicts between mother and son, but Patricia still believes that it would be better for Noah if he were more assertive than passive.
This section of the novel continues to develop Noah’s feelings of not belonging. He says that he feels more comfortable with his black family members than with other white people, who come from a higher socioeconomic background. Because Noah has grown up around Black people, he identifies as Black and always will. However, it is difficult for him to fit in because being Black also comes at a cost; many Blacks have been discriminated against historically and are still today disenfranchised by society. While choosing to identify as Black might mean losing opportunities such as attending better academic classes or making more money in life, it is important for Noah to feel like he belongs somewhere.
A man named Noah was raised in South Africa and grew up with a dislike for cats. He later learned that this is common among Black people in the area, and that his mother had been taught to distrust cats as well. One day, Patricia adopted two black cats against the wishes of her son Noah. The first cat was killed by someone in their neighborhood shortly after it arrived at their home. After some time passed, Patricia adopted two puppies whom she named Panther and Fufi (which means “love” in Swahili). Fufi became Noah’s pet because he thought she was unintelligent; however, it turns out that she was deaf which explains why she acted so strangely around them. She also proved to be very skilled at climbing walls and breaking out of yards. One day while chasing Fufi through an unfamiliar neighborhood, Noah found himself at another house where a young boy claimed ownership over her since he believed they were both African dogs from the same litter who got separated from each other during a storm many years ago when they were still small puppies. This devastated Noah until his mother explained that Fufi wasn’t doing anything wrong—she just wanted to go back to where she came from because there are no fences or boundaries between animals like there are between humans due to our societal differences based on race or class or gender etc…
Noah reflects on his father, Robert. He was born in Switzerland and trained to be a chef. In the 1970s, he moved to South Africa where he ran a restaurant that served both Black and White customers. However, because of apartheid laws, he couldn’t have different washrooms for each racial group so he had to close it down. As a child, Noah spent every Sunday with him as well as celebrating birthdays and Christmas together. When Noah turned thirteen years old, Robert moved to Cape Town but they lost touch soon after due to their conflicting schedules.
When Noah is twenty-four, his mother insists he reconnect with his father. He tracks him down and goes to visit him in Cape Town. His father has been following his career but pushes Noah away because of the pain that caused their separation. However, they learn from this experience and grow closer as a result of spending time together.
Noah explains the origins of colored people in South Africa. They arose from relationships between Dutch colonists, Khoisan tribesmen, and African slaves. Most colored people speak Afrikaans rather than African languages and have no sense of a distinct history or identity. Noah is viewed as other because he’s surrounded by other colored people but still considered inferior to whites under apartheid. Categorization was illogical and arbitrary: if someone “appeared” white enough due to skin color, accent, or mannerism they could get reclassified as white; they could also get demoted to Black if they weren’t deemed white enough. Ethnic groups were assigned arbitrarily: Chinese people were classified as Black while Japanese were classified as white. Noah is in a particularly ambivalent position because although he largely identifies himself as Black with an affinity for African culture (he speaks several African languages) he also has perfect English skills and is well educated–traits that are typically associated with whiteness in South Africa.
Noah is isolated and different from others. He often becomes the target of bullies, who pick on him because he’s different than them. For example, a girl tricks Noah into stealing his bike because she sees how excited he was to have someone be nice to him. On another occasion, some older boys throw mulberries at Noah and laugh when they see that it hurts him. His mother thinks this is funny but later realizes that his new friend Abel can help her get revenge on those boys for hurting her son by telling Abel what happened so that he will hurt them in return with a tree branch. This gives Noah pleasure until he sees Abel beating up one of the children with the tree branch; then he feels horror as well as pleasure at seeing violence done to another person like himself who has been bullied by others before. The boy’s father comes over later only to find out about what happened between Cain and Abel earlier in the day; then both are scared of each other after their encounter leaves both men feeling powerless against each other due to their differences.
In this section, Noah is forced to deal with the grief caused by losing his dog Fufi and his father. He also learns valuable lessons from both of these relationships. The lesson he learns from Fufi is that we should not judge people too quickly, as they may have a reason for acting differently than what we expect. When Noah finds out that Fufi was deaf all along, it makes him realize that she really wasn’t stupid after all. Instead, she was just struggling with challenges that were invisible to everyone else but her family members who knew sign language. Similarly, when the second family takes in Fufi’s puppies (that Noah had been raising), he feels betrayed and abandoned because the new owners never told him about their plan to take them away so soon after bringing them home. However, Patricia helps him see why this happened: They were only trying to give those dogs a better life. She helps her son make sense of the situation instead of getting caught up in feelings of anger and betrayal. This kind of maturity comes from Patricia’s guidance rather than solely being a natural part of growing up for young children.
Noah and his father have lost touch, but Patricia points out that he would feel better about himself if they were closer. Noah has strong ties to the Black African side of his identity from his mother’s family, but he needs more context around what he has gotten from his father’s side. When Noah realizes that Robert cares about him and is proud of him, it makes him happy. However, Noah pushes too hard for a relationship with Robert on his own terms instead of being patient like Fufi taught him in a previous chapter.
Noah’s life is a continuation of the same struggle that he has had his entire life. He struggles to fit in with other people because he doesn’t quite understand how to be part of different communities. Deborah Posel explains, “While understood and represented as a biological phenomenon, ‘race’ was also crucially a judgment about social standing” (94). Noah’s inability to fit neatly into understandings of how a person of a given race should behave means that he is often lonely. While being bullied by other children seems like mostly an individual loss, it offers another insight into how apartheid had an impact on the lives of all South Africans. In a society where fitting into racial categories is so important, being different isn’t tolerated at all.
The next section focuses on Noah’s romantic relationships as they develop during his adolescence. He begins to notice girls, and is unsure how to approach them or if he should even try. While in middle school, he meets Maylene at a new school, and many of his friends assume that the two of them would be a good match because they’re both mixed race students. Noah also has some feelings for her so he buys her gifts as a valentine’s present. On Valentine’s Day, she gives him the cold shoulder because she already agreed to be Leonardo’s valentine before their relationship started.
When Noah starts middle school, he’s in an environment where everybody is poor. However, he feels poorer than the other students and doesn’t fit in with either group because they are at opposite ends of the income spectrum. He eventually takes advantage of his speed to get money by standing in line for wealthy white kids while taking a cut from their orders. Although it gives him a role within the social hierarchy, he still feels isolated and lonely at times when standing amongst his fellow students.
Being useful is important because Noah is poor, afflicted with bad acne, and wears ill-fitting clothes. He resigns himself to never having a girlfriend. He is friends with a girl named Johanna who is also close friends with a beautiful colored girl named Zaheera. Noah has a crush on Zaheera but he’s too shy to ask her out and so he waits for her to make the first move. She eventually does by telling him she likes him but then moves away before they can start dating. This teaches Noah that being shy doesn’t pay off in the end and that you should take risks even if it means failing at something sometimes.
At the time when Noah is attending Sandringham School, he and his family have also moved to a predominantly white Jewish neighborhood called Highlands North. The neighborhood is quite far from school and isolated as well. He finds it difficult to make friends with other kids in the area, but he does manage to befriend one black boy named Teddy who goes to his school. One day, they discover that they can easily steal chocolates from a small shop at their local mall by distracting security guards. They do this for some time until finally one day Noah gets caught by a guard while Teddy manages to run away. A few days later, Teddy’s parents show up at the house and speak with Patricia about what happened that day. They explain that another boy was with him but that he won’t say who it was and insists it wasn’t Noah because of how things look on camera footage of them stealing from the store: although both boys were present during the theft, only one appears on camera since only people of certain skin tones are visible there (and Noah has lighter skin than Teddy). The next day at school, teachers question Noah about whether or not he knows anything about what happened because everyone assumes he must be friends with all kids who go to their school given how close together those two neighborhoods are; however no matter what evidence points towards him being involved in this crime (such as eyewitness accounts), no one seems able see past their conviction that they’re looking for someone who looks like them rather than someone else even if all evidence suggests otherwise.
As Noah gets older, he acquires a computer and CD writer to make money by selling pirated CDs. He works alongside two other boys named Tim and Sizwe. Both of them are connected to rougher black neighborhoods where hustling is common place. For example, Tim passes Noah off as a famous American rapper in order to sell tickets for the fake performance. When Noah confides his disappointment at not having a date to senior prom, Tim promises him that he’ll find him one in exchange for making more money from the CD sales. A few weeks later, Tim introduces him to an incredibly beautiful girl named Babiki who has agreed to go with him only if she can get a cut of the profits from their business venture together. Noah agrees but is suspicious about her motives since they don’t really know each other very well yet; however, when it comes time for prom night he’s ecstatic because everything worked out perfectly!
Noah is excited about the prom and plans to borrow his stepfather’s BMW, get a new outfit, and get a new hairstyle. He then meets up with Babiki and takes her to the dance. However, disaster strikes when he finds out that Abel refuses to let him borrow the car because of an argument they had earlier in the day. This causes Noah to be late getting there, which leads people who are already at the dance to make fun of Babiki for being with someone so late. He also gets lost driving over there because he was arguing with Abel on whether or not he could take his car (which didn’t help). When they finally arrive at the location where everyone else is having fun at their prom night, Noah realizes that Babiki doesn’t speak English very well (even though she has been living in America for years). Therefore it turns out that no one can understand what anyone else is saying—including Noah himself! In fact, Noah has never even talked directly with Babiki before this moment; therefore all of this comes as quite a shocker!
Noah’s early romantic relationships are unsuccessful because he lacks confidence. He passively accepts that Johanna would rather be with Leonardo, and he cannot imagine Zaheera might return his feelings. Noah is too shy to talk to Babiki, which leads the confusion about what language she speaks. However, Noah’s insecurities stem from racial and socio-economic factors as well. Everyone assumes they should date because of their similar skin tone even though they have nothing else in common. If Noah had more flexibility in choosing a girl based on similarities instead of superficial characteristics like skin color or clothing style, he might find someone who returns his feelings instead of rejecting him for not being fashionable enough. Nonetheless, Noah does learn lessons from these experiences such as the value of being brave and genuinely interested in women you’re dating.
Noah is a successful entrepreneur who has made his way through life relying on his creativity and self-confidence. He was raised in poverty, so he had to be creative about how he earned money. Since he doesn’t have many friends, he uses his intelligence and ambition to make himself useful to others. While people might not like him or feel that he belongs with them, Noah makes the most of what he has by using his talents wisely.
Noah’s appearance makes him ambiguous in terms of race. He can appear white, which allows him to get away with things. For example, he goes shoplifting with his friend Teddy and is never suspected by the police or school officials because they view him as a white kid. Noah feels guilty about this but doesn’t tell anyone what happened so that he won’t get into trouble. Because Noah has always been resourceful and independent, he knows how to avoid getting into trouble at all costs; therefore, he does not speak up about what happened.
Noah discusses the different ways in which nations have handled teaching their shameful histories. In South Africa, there is minimal time spent learning about apartheid. He then explains how he got his business off the ground by selling bootlegged PlayStation games and pirated CDs to black students who were intimidated by Chinese students trying to sell them those items.
When Daniel graduates, he gives his CD writer to Noah. Now Noah can copy CDs and sell them at a fraction of the cost of buying a CD in store. Business expands rapidly, and soon Noah is selling mix CDs and mixing tracks together. The money that Noah makes from his business allows him the freedom to buy things like fast food and a cordless telephone. His business partner, Sizwe, lives in Alexandra, an impoverished neighborhood where he suggests that they start DJ’ing parties. They do their first street party in Alexandra the summer after Daniel graduates from high school; he doesn’t have a job yet but makes money by selling CDs and playing parties with Hitler as one of their dancers for unfamiliar songs so people will get excited about dancing to those new tunes without knowing what’s coming next.
As Noah’s band becomes more popular, they are invited to perform at different locations. One day, they are invited to play at a Jewish school. At first the performance goes well, but then Hitler starts dancing and everyone cheers his name. The teachers cut short the performance and throw them out of the school because they think that Noah’s group is discriminating against Jews by cheering for Hitler.
After Noah finishes high school, he decides to move out because of a bad relationship with his stepfather. He tries saving money for university by selling CDs on the street, but quickly gets caught up in a life of petty crime and never seems to have enough money. One night, while DJ’ing at a party that’s raided by the police, he realizes that what he’s doing has an impact on people’s lives. After getting arrested and spending time in jail after finding a gun in the minibus he was riding in, Noah realizes that while everyone else around him is living their lives like they have no other choice than to hustle or steal from others just to get by, he does have more choices about how his life will turn out.
As Noah grows up, he becomes both more successful and more restricted in his future options. He’s highly motivated to achieve success, but the resources that helped him are important as well. He acknowledges this fact by saying that people can’t succeed without help from others or resources. His story is inspiring because it shows how a person with limited opportunities can still become successful if they’re highly motivated and work hard enough.
Noah learns more about South African culture when he goes to Alexandra. He has not been well-off, but he also hasn’t experienced the level of poverty that exists there. Noah’s education and ability to move between social classes gives him a significant advantage over many people in the area. While it doesn’t actually improve his financial situation or help him progress his career, Noah quickly falls into a comfortable routine in Alexandra because it makes him feel useful and like part of something bigger than himself. Since he is no longer living with his mother, Noah isn’t being spurred on by ambition or big dreams anymore so he lets himself live day-to-day without any worries about the future.
Noah seems to be settling into a routine that might not expand his future. Living in Alexandra, he would seem like he’s wasting the education and potential that he has. However, incidents like Hitler dancing at the Jewish school show that Noah still doesn’t know much about the Holocaust and why Hitler is an offensive name. Even with a fairly good education, Noah doesn’t know much about why people are offended by it. At a moment when it seems like Noah was going to get stuck in his current way of life, this incident highlights what could happen if he did stay there.
However, Noah falls into a routine and lacks ambition. Incidents like the stolen camera make him reassess his life and move forward. He has a strong sense of morality and does not want to risk jail time or rely on crime to get by. Most people who become criminals are stuck in that lifestyle forever, so he wants to break free from it as soon as possible. By looking at those around him who lack opportunity, education, and privilege, he realizes that he wants to take advantage of what he’s been given in life.
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Noah reflects on the bad parts of his childhood, such as how he was arrested for driving a stolen car. One day when Noah is 19, he wants to buy some cheap mobile phones in order to resell them. He takes an old car from his stepfather’s shop and puts a random license plate on it, but then gets pulled over by the police because they think that the plates don’t match up with the registration number. When Noah calls his cousin about what happened, he decides not to tell anyone else because he’s afraid of getting into trouble for taking a vehicle without permission.
Noah decides to hire a lawyer in order to avoid going back into jail. He asks his friend for money, and he pretends that the situation is worse than it really is. In reality, he finds prison life easier than expected. He even helps out other inmates by translating for them. After a week, Noah attends his bail hearing and pays the bail fee to be released from jail until his court date. When he returns home, he plans never to tell his mother what happened because she already knows about it thanks to the father of one of Noah’s friends who paid for everything with her help.
Noah remembers when his mom first met Abel, who was a mechanic at the time. At first, Noah thinks Abel is charming and pleasant to be around. However, he warns her not to marry him because he’s too good for her. But she marries him anyways and has Andrew about a year later. They travel to meet Abel’s extended family in their traditional area of South Africa where women have very rigid roles that Patricia ignores despite the tension it causes between them.
Abel is a very talented mechanic and Patricia helps him get the money to buy his own shop. They struggle financially for some time, but things start looking up once they sell the business. However, Abel becomes jealous of Patricia’s success and he hits her one day when she comes home late from work. He continues to hit her until she leaves him for good. She goes back to work and supports him with her salary because he can’t hold down a job after that incident.
Eventually, Abel starts to hit Noah. This leads to his moving out when he finishes high school but staying in touch with his mother. As the relationship between Patricia and Abel deteriorates, Noah anticipates that she will leave him as soon as Andrew is older. Patricia unexpectedly finds herself pregnant with a third child, which leaves Noah angry and frustrated. After the birth of Isaac, Abel continues to be abusive and Patricia moves herself and her young sons into a separate building on the property. Noah is furious that she won’t end the relationship so he effectively cuts ties with her by moving in with his cousin
Eventually, Patricia does move on and remarry. She still stays in touch with Abel because of their shared children. One day, Noah receives a call from his brother Andrew telling him that the police have shot Patricia. He rushes to the hospital where he finds out that Abel had shown up at her house and started shooting. First, he shot her in the leg; when it didn’t kill her, he tried again but she was able to dodge it; then finally he shot her in the head and killed her. After getting this news about his mother’s death from Andrew, Noah will find out later that after being shot by Abel, Patricia asked for help so Andrew rushed over there and drove around with his injured mother until they found someone who could take them to get medical attention. After going back home briefly to get some things together for Isaac (his son), Abel went off driving around town announcing his intention to commit suicide but eventually gave himself up without hurting anyone else or killing himself
Patricia was shot in the face by her husband, but miraculously survived. Although she didn’t have health insurance, Noah promised to pay for her medical bills and took care of them. However, Patricia believes that God intervened on her behalf because Abel never served any jail time.
Noah ends his memoir reflecting on how he deeply loved his mother and appreciated their unshakeable bond together.
Noah’s memoir is written in a conversational tone, not strictly chronologically. He returns to earlier incidents in his life to explain what happened with Abel later on. Noah has avoided mentioning Abel until now because he doesn’t want him to be part of the story or have an influence over it. However, he needs this information for context and can’t avoid talking about it anymore.
Abel and Patricia have a troubled relationship. They are both abusive towards each other, with Abel abusing Patricia physically and financially while she abuses him psychologically by not being submissive to him. In all other areas of her life, however, Patricia is very successful. She’s intelligent and confident enough that she has been able to build a family with Noah (her son), start her own career, as well as raise an intelligent child on her own. However within the marriage itself these qualities work against her since Abel feels emasculated by his wife’s unwillingness to be submissive or traditional in their marriage; he also doesn’t want his wife to be recognized for being smart or competent because he wants people to see only him as the smarter one in the relationship. Outside of this though it seems like Noah has benefited from having such a strong mother figure who can stand up for herself despite what others think about it; even if this means that they’re going through some rough times together right now due to their issues with each other within their marriage.”
Despite being aware of her husband’s flaws, Patricia resists leaving him for a long time. This is because South African society tends to ignore domestic violence and even condone men hitting their wives. Although she reports the first incident to the police, they don’t help her. This foreshadows how Abel will not receive jail time after he shoots her in the head later on. Her mother’s reaction is also unsupportive: Noah’s grandmother points out that her own husband hit her and remarks that this is just life for women. This shows how intergenerational trauma can be passed down, mirroring how suffering during apartheid can also be normalized and accepted as normal.
Patricia’s instinct that Abel will lash out if she leaves him proves to be true. She finally moves out of the relationship and forms a new one, but he tries to kill her. While Noah has always loved his mother, the prospect of losing her clarifies just how much she means to him. He feels angry and helpless that he couldn’t protect her from Abel, but he does what he can by paying for her medical bills. Patricia’s luck—or as she sees it, faith—means that a very serious incident results in only minor injuries. Ending the memoir with a joking exchange between mother and son shows that no matter what dark incidents happen to them they are each other partners in resilience and hope