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A Tale of Two Reviews

Working this past year at Indigo books, I have purchased far more books than I have had opportunity to read. This morning, as I made my bed, I set four of these books beside the pillow. This was more decorative than functional, since after finishing Tima Kurdi’s The Boy on the Beach two days ago, I decided I needed light-hearted fodder temporarily, and I am now three chapters into a romance by Kristan Hanna, and have this book tucked safely into the bag I carry with me everywhere I travel.

Awhile ago, work sent out a book list to staff, asking us to pick some titles to read that we might better educate customers. I chose Noah’s Born a Crime. Last week I snagged the copy of The Boy on the Beach designated for staff lending off our lunch room table. For anyone who is a fan of non-fiction writing which reveals life in non-North American countries and is ready to shed a few empathetic tears (or, in my case, sob hoarsely while tears fall in rivulets down my cheeks), I highly recommend either story.

The Boy on the Beach: Tima Kurdi

If you are a compassionate, globally-minded individual who saw the photograph of a drowned two-year old refugee named Alan (2015) and have followed, at all, the war in Syria and the plight of her refugees, then Tima Kurdi’s The Boy on the Beach needs to be on your must-read list. Be fore-warned, though, the subject matter of this story will wrench your heart.

Tima Kurdi was aunt to Alan, and her story is a personal and family narrative rather than a political treatise. In it, she describes pre-war Syria as a warm, hospitable, safe community of vibrant smells, delicious foods, community values and bountiful opportunities. She then offers fragmentary glimpses of the horrors of war, the frailties of life as a refugee, the tragedy of mass human displacement and desperation, and the many losses such realities dispense. She discusses the political hoops refugees must traverse, the barriers to successfully navigating such boundaries, and the potentially lethal risks which seem the only remaining alternatives to people desperately seeking survival.

This book is immensely relatable. There is a straight-forward simplicity to the author’s style which makes The Boy on the Beach a very attainable read. Kurdi is gracious in her gratitude towards those who have helped the Syrian plight, while quietly and with heart-felt grief condemning those who have failed to assist. There is a sense of bewilderment to her question: Are we not all mostly the same?

Although the book ends on a cautiously optimistic note, The Boy on the Beach may leave a reader grieving for the characters of this narrative and for the global condition of humanity. The sequence of events Kurdi lays out imply that if the atrocity of civil war could descend upon Syria, it could develop anywhere. As Kurdi pictures it, this was a war the citizens of Syria didn’t want, didn’t see coming, didn’t endorse, and most definitely have not benefitted from. The book is a reminder that sometimes people have a mission -- never expected -- into which fate propels them. Such was the case for Tima Kurdi and her family.

Born A Crime: Trevor Noah

Despite living a life full of some pretty desperate moments, there is a warmth and optimism to Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime. Maybe it’s his massive current success which allows for this, maybe his sense of humour, maybe the influence of his strong mother. Whichever the case, this book details the incredible difficulties of Noah’s early life in an intelligent and gently comedic manner. At moments, any other treatment would have made the book impossible to stomach, as this memoir reveals just how very tough life has at times been for the popular comedian.

Born in South Africa during the moment of apartheid, Noah’s mixed heritage (white father, black mother) made his very birth a crime. In the pages of his book, he intersperses tales of his complicated family life, difficult existence, and lack of social belonging with stories which reveal the clear and evident love and respect the man has for his mother.

Noah’s describes life in South Africa with convincing realism and clarity, telling stories of church and God, the difficulties of public school life for a ‘coloured’ child, misadventures at the hands of African bandits, and the constant need to find that place where he belongs. He paints an extremely clear picture of his life in Africa under apartheid.

The writing of Born a Crime flows with an undercurrent of intelligence as it reveals more about Trevor Noah’s personality, from childhood disobedience, adolescent brushes with the law, his responses to a step-father’s alcoholism and violence, his search to understand and date the opposite sex, and underneath it all, the clear undercurrent of entrepreneurship which seems to characterize the man Trevor Noah becomes.

Although the content of this book is not identical to the comedian’s stand up routine, it is nonetheless impossible to mistake its author. In fact, if there is a weakness to the book, it might be that anyone familiar with his stand-up may already have heard some of what the book contains. The book, however, is prose with serious undertones. Born a Crime fills in details to experiences that Noah’s comedy merely highlights. Anyone reading Noah's book will come away with a deeper knowledge and appreciation for who Trevor Noah has become.

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