Currently Reading: A Memoir

This month I am focusing on reading the ARCs that I have on my bookshelf – it is #arcaugust on bookstagram and people are sharing the stories that they have received to read and review. This morning, I decided to pick up a memoir that interests me: A Good Wife by Samra Zafar. I stood in line at the OLA Super Conference early on in the year to receive a signed copy of the galley. The book was available in stores from March 2019.

At seventeen, Samra Zafar had to leave her family behind in Pakistan and move to Canada when she married a stranger. In the years that followed, she suffered her husband’s physical and emotional abuse. Desperate to get out and refusing to give up, she hatched an escape plan for her and her daughters. Somehow she found the strength to not only build a new future, but to walk away from her past, ignoring the pleas of her family and risking cultural isolation by divorcing her husband.

I am a couple of chapters in, and already my eyes have been opened to practices that I had not really accepted still exist.

Would you read this memoir?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

First Line Fridays: Born A Crime by Trevor Noah

“The genius of apartheid was convincing people who were the overwhelming majority to turn on each other. Apart hate, is what it was. You separate people into groups and make them hate one another so you can rule them all.”

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (2016, Penguin Random House Canada)

The opening lines of of Trevor Noah’s memoir is a perfect introduction to the story of his childhood growing up in South Africa. The anecdotes told in this book reflect both his humour and the experience of so many South Africans during the time period described. An interesting read for both South Africans and non-South Africans alike.

What do you think of the introduction to Noah’s memoir? Would you continue reading?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This post is linked to It’s Not Hoarding If It’s Books and her One Line Friday challenge.)

Book Review: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah is a South African comedian and I love his work. He makes fun of South Africa and its people – and yet the fun is not mean. Instead the snapshots he describes are so true, they are laughable. I had been eyeing his memoir in the bookstore and I finally bought it. I bought it for two reasons: firstly because he is an excellent comedian; and secondly he is South African born as I am.

Genre: Memoir, non-fiction


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 a 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.

The eighteen personal essays collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.

My thoughts: 

I loved reading this book for so many reasons. Firstly his reflections on the past brought up so many memories of my own growing up and living in South Africa during the time period that he describes. Secondly, it was interesting to read of another person’s experience growing up in my Motherland near the end of Apartheid. Thirdly, I love Trevor Noah’s humour and his take on life and people – a humour that found its way into his writing. Fourthly, the memoir was well written and subtly exposed the many things that were wrong with the Apartheid system.

Born A Crime is a retelling of a childhood that keeps a person reading. The book is sprinkled with the laws of the system in South Africa, laws which affected the lifestyle of this comedian. The book has been written for a mainly non-South African audience so many of the social expectations, South Africanisms, and everyday experiences are explained. I read this book quickly, and discussed many of the issues highlighted at the diner table with my family. Now my husband is reading the memoir – and soon afterwards my daughters will too.

Trevor Noah’s memoir is a must-read if you enjoy this genre and are looking to understand the experience of a mixed-race child born during a time when it was a crime to mix intimately with other races.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐  5 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 63rd in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: My Secret Mother by Phyllis Whitsell

I picked up My Secret Mother by Phyllis Whitsell as the subject of this memoir intrigued me. Whitsell tells the story of how she was abandoned and then adopted by a Catholic family. She begins her search for her birth mother as an adult and, after years of searching, discovers that her mother is the local alcoholic known as ‘Tipperary Mary’. The memoir describes the journey of a young woman who finds her birth mother and who begins to care for her in the role of a nurse.

The story has the potential to be both interesting, emotionally charged, and enlightening and I looked forward to reading it. However, I was to be disappointed. The writing style is very staccato and does not encouraged the reader to feel any emotion. Instead the reader is presented with a factual and dry account of a series of events.

“There seemed to be a lot of whispering going on in the house and I was not included. Suddenly I felt really angry and could stand it no longer. If I was going to be sent back to the orphanage I needed to know, so I screamed, “What is happening to me and where will I be going?’ To my amazement I was not reprimanded for screaming out with such anger in my voice.” (p47, Harper Collins, 2015)

I found the many accounts featured in the novel to be tedious and pedantic – and often repetitive. Even though the book is a memoir, it could have been written in a more interesting way: the environment could have been described and the writer’s emotions referred to in a more engaging way.

I would not recommend this book to any reader. Even though the blurb on the book cover sounds interesting, the way in which the book is written does not captivate and hold a person’s interest.

Do you enjoy reading memoirs?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 21st in my 50 book pledge for 2018)