Tuesday, May 02, 2017

What we're listening to: Awesome autobiography!

As I have mentioned here before, I am not an audio book person. My theory is that it's because I am a really fast reader, and thus find listening to a book to be maddeningly, glacially slow. I have recently discovered, however, that I do like listening to nonfiction. Perhaps it's because I dislike reading nonfiction and never manage to stay awake for more than 10 minutes after opening the book! Somehow that doesn't happen while I'm driving on the freeway (fortunately), so I have been venturing some nonfiction audio while commuting to and from the library.

A Facebook friend was raving about an autobiography to which she and her teenage son had recently listened, so since I was somewhat curious about the subject, I checked it out. It was an amazing experience!

The book is Born A Crime, by Trevor Noah, who took over for Jon Stewart when he left The Daily Show on Comedy Central. Young, charismatic, attractive, and engaging, Noah comes across as a friendly middle class guy with a British accent, but his background is far otherwise.

In Born A Crime, you find out about the perils and risks of growing up as a mixed child in South Africa during apartheid. I thought I had a pretty good grasp of what apartheid encompassed, but after listening to Noah detail the divisions of races and classes and the advantages and disadvantages of belong to each, and then explain the discomfort and occasional terror of never belonging to any of them, I found out I didn't know so much. He starts with his birth, which was illegal (his mother was black, his father was white, and it was against the law for them to associate, cohabit, or procreate), and details his life up through his late teens. It is alternately shocking, informative, humorous, stunning, and probably every other adjective I can muster.

The thing that makes this stand out from other autobiographies is Noah's narration. Sometimes it's a mistake for an author to narrate his own work (I can think of a few disastrous, wooden attempts), but this is one book that I would say you must listen to, rather than read. I'm sure the word on the page is powerful, because the stories are fascinating; but the experience of the audio is not to be missed.

Trevor Noah speaks six languages: English, Afrikaans (the Dutch derivative spoken primarily by whites in South Africa), and four African languages--Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana and Tsonga. So when he is narrating his story and he comes in contact with, say, someone who speaks Zulu, he effortlessly switches the conversation into that language, and then translates, also using the accent that a Zulu-speaking person would have when speaking English!

Not only does he use the languages interchangeably, but he effortlessly falls into the voices of the people in his stories, whether it's "little Trevor," his Xhosa mother, his Swiss-German Afrikaans-speaking father, the local policeman, or his schoolmates and friends of any and every tribal and racial origin. He lifts his pitch a little, or deepens it, he makes an accent a bit more harsh, and he's suddenly speaking with the voice of someone else. It's riveting.

My one disappointment was that we never find out in this book how he went from selling pirated CDs on street corners in "the townships" in his late teens to a career in his 30s as a television comedian in America; but since the subtitle is "Stories from a South African Childhood," I should have known better. And the up side is, now I can look forward to a sequel for the rest of the story. Right, Trevor?

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