Book stories: September

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.” 


Trevor Noah: Born a crime

Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such an union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

I knew Trevor Noah as comedian since a while (his shows Afraid of the Dark & Son of Patricia are currently on Netflix) I came across his autobiography Born a crime by coincidence when I was looking for a read before a long train ride. While reading the book, I laughed and I cried and sometimes I wasn’t sure which kind of emotion is appropriate. The stories are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting as Trevor Noah illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty.

Édouard Louis: The End of Eddy

Born as Eddy Bellegueule in the northern part of France in 1992, Édouard Louis invites the reader to his tough childhood and youth days back in his hometown Hallencourt. In The End of Eddy everybody seems to struggle and poverty, alcoholism and racism are common. Eddy, the eldest son of a fabric worker struggles even more, as he fails to fulfil his fathers expectations to became what is understood to be a real man. Both his parents are disturbed by a son so unmanly that he doesn’t even like soccer. As Eddy wittily puts it, they treat his obvious gayness as if it was some weird art project that he does just to annoy them.

After being published in 2014, The End of Eddy, the first work by Édouard Louis, was the subject of extensive media attention and hailed for its literary merit and compelling story.  It was a bestseller in France and has been since translated into more than 20 languages. Since then Louis wrote two more books, History of Violence and Who Killed my Father, both exceptionally successful and the write now is often called the voice of his generation.

Thank to the mentioned wide media attention I came across The End of Eddy in 2015, shortly after it was translated into German. Édouard Louis writes in a raw language, and he doesn’t spare his readers of any of the sometimes quite brutal details. There is a permanent undercurrent of violence. Apparently it was so rare to hear the voices of working-class families in Picardy that one Paris publisher told Édouard Louis: “I can’t publish it because no one will believe that people can be that poor.”

Ferdinand von Schirach: Crime

I discovered Ferdinand von Schirach last year, when a famous German Instagramer, Xenia Adonts, mentioned a documentary about him in her Instagram stories. After watching the documentary I decided to give it a try and bought Coffee & Cigaretts, the only one of his books available at my local bookstore. Needles to say I finished it within a day. Since then, I did read seven of his twelve books. While I loved them all, I decided to focus here on Crime, his first work and one that definitely left me in awe.

Von Schirach, a former attorney at law, was born in Munich, Germany in 1964. He published his first book Crime at the age of 45. Shortly thereafter he became one of Germany’s most successful authors. His books, which have been translated into more than 35 languages, have sold millions of copies worldwide and have made him an internationally celebrated star of German literature.

Crime is the first instalment of a trilogy, followed by Guilt and Punishment. If you ever wanted to understand the motivations stirring within the criminal mind this is your chance. In Crime a nameless lawyer invites the reader to an extraordinary dossier of violent and unspeakable acts. All the crimes have one thing in common: the guilty are never convicted in a court of law. The narrator shows how the human circumstances behind events can tell a different story. By turns witty and sorrowful, brutal and heartbreaking, the deeply affecting cases presented in Crime urge a closer examination of guilt and innocence.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: