Edward Simon Cruz
As April has come to a close, we’ve taken time to reflect on some of the best things we’ve read so far this year. Here are the Race Matters column’s picks for the month of April, all written by POC authors!
Nona’s Pick: Born A Crime by Trevor Noah
You may know Trevor Noah as the host from The Daily Show, the comedian, or the Son of Patricia. But in his coming-of-age memoir Born A Crime, you’ll see beyond the success and titles Noah has amassed since his move to the United States. In a reflection of his childhood in apartheid-ridden South Africa, Noah explains that he was born a crime. Being the product of an affair between his Black Xhosa mother and white Swiss-German father, an act that was illegal at the time, meant living his childhood in secrecy, indoors and out of sight. Caught in the middle of two identities and frequently ostracized by his community, Noah navigates his adolescence, confronting poverty, abuse, racism, crime, incarceration, a devoutly Christian mother, and relationships along the way. It’s a story told with unwavering honesty in a hilarious yet simultaneously heavy reminiscence of a childhood spent in a segregated country.
I’ve been following Trevor Noah since the release of Afraid of the Dark on Netflix in 2017. Funnily enough, I hadn’t found out he wrote a book until April of last year. But once I got my hands on it, I couldn’t put it down. Over the course of the next day and a half, you’d find me laughing hysterically one minute and crying the next. There is a fascinating charm to the autobiography, each chapter separated by snippets of historical context, expressions from various languages from South Africa scattered throughout. I can’t say that there’s one singular lesson I took from Born A Crime. Coming to terms with your identity is one of them. But more than that, I left the book knowing that your current situation doesn’t define your future circumstances, realizing that constantly facing adversity doesn’t mean you can never overcome it.
Edward’s Pick: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom by August Wilson
August Wilson has become renowned for telling stories of Black experiences in America through his Pittsburgh Cycle, a series of ten plays covering different ideas about being Black and being human. Each play of the Pittsburgh Cycle is set in a different decade of the 20th century, with Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom being set in 1920s Chicago. The play is centered around a recording session for the titular artist, who is considered to be the “Mother of the Blues.” It follows her as well as her band members, particularly the ambitious and arrogant trumpet player Levee, as they use music to understand their world while resisting exploitation and opposition from white producers.
I became interested in reading Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom when I heard that it was adapted into a film that was also the final on-screen performance of the groundbreaking actor Chadwick Boseman. Though I was blown away by the acting in the film and am not surprised to see Boseman winning practically every major award for his gut-wrenching performance as Levee, I realized that neither the film nor the play would have held the same amount of power without Wilson’s writing. Wilson particularly develops Levee, whom Boseman portrays in the film adaptation, as a tragic hero attempting to grapple with the continuing presence of racism against Black Americans; Levee’s character arc is built in a way that allows the reader to feel his pain before they are left devastated by the final scene. Boseman was a great actor, but Wilson made Levee into a great character. Levee’s character arc alone is worth analyzing in addition to the various themes addressed in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, a testament to Wilson’s power to represent the many sides of being Black in America.
Taylor’s Pick: Please Look After Mom by 신경숙 (Shin Kyung-Sook)
As her first book written in English, Korean author Shin Kyung-Sook writes a riveting tale about the unexplainable disappearance of “mom” and the journey of self-discovery, guilt, and loss for “mom’s” children and husband. This story also highlights the self-sacrifice of mothers and the ignorance of children and husbands who don’t realize that the life of a “mom” does not center around them. As the story progresses, told in the eyes of each of the children and their father, secrets about the mother’s life are revealed while they desperately continue to search for a mother that went missing due to their negligence. Finally, as the story comes to a close, the family of the mother understands the importance of a mother and how taking her for granted caused more heartbreak than they could ever imagine.
I read this book as part of a program and was excited to read from an author I hadn’t heard of before. Ms. Shin’s novel was inspiring; I felt compelled to go and hug my mother after finishing her novel. The uniqueness of the novel being written from the point of view of everyone but the main character paired with the juxtaposition between an abnormal occurrence with such a normal family made this book not only exciting to read, but also heart-wrenching. The emotion of anger and annoyance at the narrator strengthened as the chapters went on and I came to the realization that every problem in the story was caused by negligent, ungrateful children and an ignorant, unfaithful husband. Apart from the main plot of the story, the novel’s setting made for an interesting and new concept to me as I learned about life in the countryside compared to life in the city of Korea. Throughout the course of this book right up until the end, I understood that respect, trust and caring for those who spent everything to care for you is not something that is “kind” but expected and deserved. I urge you all to go and say thank you for those who raised you and to remember that you have a duty to take care of those who once took care of you.