“Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood” – a review

As promised, BR&S editors have been hard at work putting together another a review for something engaging that they have come across – games, music, movies, books, a cornucopia of random points of interest.

This week, Sammy has reviewed Trevor Noah’s memoir, “Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood”.

Sammy S. –

For readers like myself who survive on professor recommends and an unholy amount of Sarah J. Maas and YA fantasy, finding something captivating outside of the go-to genre is challenging. After three years of college English courses my “go-to” genre wasn’t cutting it.

I’m still not sure if I can endorse celebrity autobiographies; some are so poorly written that I mostly cringe my way through it, but that wasn’t the case with Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. I chose this book to recommend to readers who are wanting to discover new reads and maybe don’t know where to start.

First thing to note is that Trevor Noah is currently a stand-up comedian and host of The Daily Show. He brings that sense of comedy to this book. I haven’t laughed so hard while reading a book since Junie B. Jones.

The comedy is well placed in this book as Trevor’s life revolves greatly around the aftermath of apartheid in South Africa. Comic relief is a great technique but Trevor’s comedy throughout the book never seems to cash in on one-liners or making light of a situation. In fact, most of the comedy comes from Trevor explaining how the social norms of modern-day USA are so different from what they were while he was growing up in South Africa. To name one memorable tidbit, was when Trevor praised his friend Hitler for his “killer dance moves.” Trevor of course will explain to you that there is a reason kids were often named Hitler or Mussolini or even Napoleon, but I won’t pretend to fully grasp the culture and attempt to relay it here. You’ll just have to read it (Ch. 15: Go Hitler!).

Second thing to note, Trevor Noah has done a very good job of explaining the culture he grew up in, part of that being the explanation as to why some South African children are named after dictators. That being said, the way he portrays his family and friendships is priceless. Even to a complete outsider Trevor captures the “oddness” of his situation with both family and friends, as he was born mixed race.

I don’t claim to know everything, even as an English major, and so I personally didn’t know much about apartheid and what it even was. I didn’t even really understand the true gravity of racism in other countries, which is something I believe many of us still don’t fully understand. This book helped though. Perhaps it’s not a literary masterpiece, though I’m sure I could argue for it. Perhaps it’s not the most ingenious portrayal of modern cultural instability. However, this book taught me more about how I see myself, and how I see others. Trevor Noah is a good writer, and he is good at keeping your attention. He knows what he’s talking about, he should after all; it’s his life!

I just wanted to leave off with some of my favorite quotes from the book, if what I have written hasn’t been enough to convince you.

  • “We had a very Tom and Jerry relationship, me and my mom. She was the strict disciplinarian; I was naughty as shit,” (11).
  • “I never felt poor because our lives were so rich with experience,” (72).
  • “That experience shaped what I’ve felt about relationships for the rest of my life: You do not own the thing that you love,” (100).

Noah, Trevor. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. Spiegel & Grau, 2016.

Interview with Lauren Camp

Black Rock & Sage reached out to writer, and all around great human-being, Lauren Camp, author of One Hundred Hungers and asked a few questions in anticipation of her upcoming visit.

Camp will give a talk entitled Migration & Exile at 5:30 PM at the ISU Bengal Cafe Monday, September 9th. 

Black Rock & Sage (BRS): Throughout your career you have engaged with an incredible range of artistic mediums – poetry, visual art, radio, etc. – how does working amongst such variety impact your approach to writing and teaching?

Lauren Camp (LC): Manipulating sound and, at other times, colors and patterns, has been surprisingly good practice for training my ear and eye to create. I read and read, and I recommend that approach for understanding what a poem can do. The two other art forms, radio and visual art, gave me unexpected ways to hear and look at a poem. Is it synesthesia if I’m drawing on media with which I have a great deal of muscle memory? I’m not sure. I know I want to see a poem, its negative space, its composition. And thanks to an immersion in jazz, I crave the riffs in it, want to unbalance its regular sounds.  

BRS: What does your creative process look like?

LC: I write to catalogue what I’ve experienced, what I want to hold, or maybe even what I want desperately to let go of, to let slip through me and out to some other side. I write to figure out what I can’t reason to a perfect conclusion in the shower. To figure out that not all things are knowable. If I don’t have an idea, an image, a plan or something else, I don’t write.

To me, the first draft is just a beginning—what editor Lewis Lapham calls “breaking rocks.” Then, comes the exciting part: revision.

BRS: I feel as though there is a deep sense of musicality in your poetry. Is that sense of rhythm something you consciously work on or does it come from something more innate?  What is the role, if any, of music in poetry?

LC: Listening to a lot of jazz turns out to be a brilliant way to learn improvisation and fragmented melody. I’m not a musician, but I spent 15 years in broadcasting, mixing music: first, with a strictly jazz show, then with a show that ranged to wider genres.

I don’t like an even thing. I never cared for the perfect, easy sound (or in visual art, color) combination. I don’t want a poem to lock shut very often. What I crave most is a bit of friction and something uncertain or almost unpleasant. My goal is to take someone along, but maybe make some quick turns along the way. I read my poems aloud while I work. Though what I’m after is highly intuitive, it comes down to striving for a specific meter or stress that meets the subject and style

BRS: I am especially intrigued by the elements of memory that are woven through your works – in the retelling of other histories as you do in One Hundred Hungers as well as in your work at the Mayo Clinic – mostly due to my own experience as a caretaker for family with severe dementia. Recognizing that being in such a position can be both terribly difficult yet incredibly rewarding, have you struggled to balance the need to make clear your own voice with your sense of responsibility to voice the memories of others?

LC: I struggled with this in One Hundred Hungers, especially. Though I had almost no personal details available to me, I was trying to tell the story of my father’s childhood.

I knew I wasn’t writing for him, which allowed a kind of freedom. Even so, my imagination and research of the heritage and place had to feel accurate. It was equally challenging to describe a place that no longer exists in the way he lived it, a place I couldn’t visit and capture.

The poems that detail dementia offer a different set of challenges and openings. I think the actual writing gave me the opportunity to hold another role. In addition to seeing as “daughter,” I was able to be simply “a witness.” That allowed the heart a rest.

Those poems mainly voice family memories that are already known facts. But it is certainly muddy ground when one tries to describe someone else’s reality. This is heightened even more when one intends to enter the space of someone who doesn’t have language to exert their own agency. I could make accurate guesses, and that is where the effort really came in. I neither wanted to ease and make beautiful, nor put my opinions on what was happening. Also, it’s possible that a person with Alzheimer’s may not be thinking anything! That’s the dilemma, how to show what you can’t possibly know

BRS: What other voices we should be listening to? Are there any artists or authors flying under the radar or otherwise hidden that we should seek out to read or otherwise engage with?

LC: I could name dozens, maybe hundreds, of poets here. For my work in radio, I read widely. It’s a practice I’d recommend. It keeps one from creating derivative work. We should each want our voices to shine through. What we’re really after is what we have to say, not what someone else has already said well.

I’m inspired and influenced by so many contemporary poets, sometimes for a phrase or a perspective, sometimes for the gut-punch reaction or a sort of clarity.

But it’s important to remember that influences come from other places, too. Thelonious Monk is a master with space, Cy Twombly with interwoven shapes, Eva Hesse with the almosts of repetition. I like reading philosophical texts, fables, technical manuals. In some ways, my most innovative self comes when I choose to translate the effect I get from another medium into the one I’m using.

It’s nearly impossible. All I’m able to do is learn the reaction I want to go after. Getting there is a good labor and confusion and attempts. I end up with something new and fresh—and never actually like the model.

BRS: What is the role of the artist in the world?

LC: To make us feel. To remind us to see, or to point us towards what we’d never think to see.

BRS: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

LC: Read, write. Go easy on yourself. Don’t compare to anyone else. Find new vistas. Read more, write more. Learn to love revision. (I tell students that’s where all the magic happens.)

Judgment for PS4 – A review

Every couple of weeks one of the illustrious editors for Black Rock & Sage 2019/2020 will be posting a review for something fun that they have come across – games, music, movies, books, a cornucopia of random points of interest. First up, Tori and a review of Judgment for PS4.

Tori S. –

I’m a fan of the Yakuza series from Sega’s Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios, so I was over the moon when I heard they were announcing a new game. The fact that it wasn’t going to be Yakuza 7 didn’t bother me much, and I was excited to watch all the trailers showcasing the combat system and drone racing. 

The launch for Judgment wasn’t a smooth one, though. Similar to other games from RGG’s roster, Judgment launched in Japan before it came “out west.” Unfortunately, though, it had to be delayed after one of the motion-capture actors for a main villain was arrested on cocaine charges. Due to the strict climate of zero-tolerance for drugs in Japan, the game had to be altered before it could continue selling in Japan and be released worldwide. 

When the charges were first announced, there was some speculation that the game would never come out anywhere but Japan. I was contemplating buying a Japanese region PS4 just so I could get the game and struggle through an online translation to play. Luckily, though, I didn’t have to do that, as the problems with Hamura’s voice and motion-capture actor were resolved and the game launched smoothly on June 25, 2019, five months after the Japanese release. 

One thing I was worried about when I heard about Judgment being created was that the game would just be living off the popularity of the Yakuza franchise; Sega could have easily chosen to bog the game down with star-struck references to past games that got in the way of making a new game that stands on its own. 

As it turns out, my worries were wholly unfounded. 

Judgment is an action-RPG set in a made up red-light district in Tokyo, Japan called Kamurocho. However, condensing it down to that small sentence does the game an injustice. It’s impossible to discuss Judgment in a neat and tidy few sentences; there’s just too much going on.

The game starts out with a serious tone: a man has been murdered and you, Yagami, a former lawyer, are tasked to set out and discover the true story behind who killed the Kyo-Rei yakuza member without starting a turf war between the Tokyo clan. Sounds like a pretty serious game, right?

Well, that doesn’t take into account the numerous side stories the game is host to. A cutscene about the woman whose death Yagami feels responsible for can finish and I can immediately walk 200 meters and get a side story about a man wearing a wig who insists it’s just a hat. Then I have to chase this man’s “hat” at least four times. While Yagami’s mind must be reeling from the facts of the case he keeps uncovering, I take him out to the arcade and play claw-machine games before I’ve gotten enough plushie toys to decorate my office with. Then, I make Yagami shoot zombies for thirty minutes until I’m satisfied with the score I get. 

While the story in Judgment is a much welcome improvement compared to the often nonsensical and complicated plots of Yakuza games before it, the minigames and side stories are really what makes Judgment a masterpiece. While some of the games are difficult to play just because of my inexperience with Eastern board games like Shogi, others are as simple as drone racing or Texas Hold ‘em. Drone racing is an especially welcome addition, since it feels intuitive and fun. Previous Yakuza games had slot car racing, but players never got to control the cars, but now we get to race drones through the streets of Tokyo. 

The friendship system is another welcome addition. Whenever you help out a certain character, like your landlady, you gain progress towards being friends with them. After you help a person out enough, they start giving you items that you can use for crafting. 

While I will admit that the game is incredibly fun and I’ve sunk nearly 200 hours into the game so far, it does have its flaws. The most glaring flaw to me is the dating system. I can’t blame Sega for trying to appeal to the male audience, but I’ll still complain about it anyway. 

Much of the dating system is pleasant and doesn’t make me feel skeevy, but knowing my character is a 35-year-old guy dating a girl who’s not even old enough to drink (19) doesn’t make me feel super great. Ultimately there’s nothing truly wrong with this since they’re both adults, but I felt like the game emphasized her youth in ways that made me feel like they would have called her barely legal if they thought they could get away with it. Luckily, though, there’s three other options of women to date, but I can’t ignore such a creepy aspect of a game I otherwise love. 

Judgment truly made a name for itself outside of the Yakuza franchise. There are references to RGG’s previous games, but they don’t overshadow the experience Judgment tries to create. Further, the fact that the game is fully voiced in English is something that Sega and its localization* teams should be proud of. While I understand it would have been too difficult to get both the English and Japanese voice actors to sing karaoke and that’s why Judgment doesn’t have the minigame, I’ll still be upset I never got to take Kaito, the protagonist’s best friend, to karaoke. 

All things considered, here’s my ratings for Judgment:

Story- 9/10. While the story has many twists and turns that got me thinking hard about the clues I was given, it’s not convoluted and doesn’t make me feel like I’m losing my mind trying to understand what’s happening.

Gameplay: 10/10. Given the nature of the rich environment full of minigames, sub stories, fighting, and just being able to wander around, Judgment is overall an incredibly fun game to play. The combat system is fluid and refined and upgrades feel good to come by.

Graphics: 7/10. Don’t get me wrong, the game looks fantastic, but I’d like to remind Sega that women have pores, too. Often characters would look greasy due to how high definition things were, or the lighting would look odd in certain scenes. The Dragon Engine the game is written in is gorgeous, but it’s not without flaws.

Overall: 9/10. Judgment exceeded every expectation I had for it and surprised me with its lovable characters and interesting story. 

You can pick up a copy of Judgment from your favorite brick-and-mortar game store or from the Playstation Store. And definitely check out the official website for more information:

https://yakuza.sega.com/judgment/home.html

*The localization team is responsible for translating and capturing the intent of the original Japanese text. It can be an especially difficult task given the amount of sayings that have no direct translation into English.