Born a Crime

Born a Crime Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7-9


Noah notes that amongst Black people in South Africa, and in other regions as well, there is traditionally a mistrust and dislike of cats. Nonetheless, Patricia defiantly adopted two black cats as pets. After a short time, the cats are killed by someone in the neighborhood. Later, Patricia adopts two puppies, whom she and Noah name Panther and Fufi. Fufi is Noah's pet, and he loves her even though she seems unintelligent. He will later find out that she was deaf, which explains much of her behavior. Fufi is skilled at climbing walls and breaking out of the yard. One day, Noah pursues her to another house where a young boy claims she is his dog. Devastated, Noah goes home and returns with his mother, but the other family insists Fufi is their dog. Patricia has to show lots of documentation, threaten to call the police, and eventually pay off the other family to be able to take Fufi home. Noah is still heartbroken—until his mother explains that Fufi was not doing anything wrong. Ever since then, Noah has understood that it's important not to imagine that one has exclusive ownership of the people one loves.

Noah reflects on what he knows of his father, a reserved and private man. Robert grew up in Switzerland and trained as a chef before moving to South Africa in the 1970s. He found the system of apartheid totally illogical and chose to reject it, opening one of the first restaurants that would serve both Black and White customers. The restaurant was very successful, but Robert finally had to close it when he was required by law to have different washrooms for every racial categorization. As a child, Noah visited his father every Sunday and also celebrated birthdays and Christmas with him. When Noah was thirteen, Robert moved to Cape Town. By that time, father and son were spending less time together because Noah was preoccupied with his own life and his stepfather Abel didn't like him having contact with Robert. After the move, the two of them lost touch.

When Noah is twenty-four, his mother insists he reconnect with his father, so he tracks Robert down and goes to visit him in Cape Town. Noah is very moved to realize his father has been following his career, but he also pushes too hard trying to re-establish a relationship. His father teaches him that intimacy and comfort can only grow organically as a result of people spending time together.

Noah explains the earliest origins of colored people in South Africa: this group arose from relationships between the Dutch colonists, the Khoisan tribe who preceded other African groups, and then the slaves the Dutch brought with them from regions like West Africa, Madagascar, and the East Indies. Most colored people speak Afrikaans rather than African languages and have no clear sense of a distinct history or sense of belonging. After the move to Eden Park, Noah finds himself isolated and lonely because although he is surrounded by other colored people, he is viewed as other. Under apartheid, colored people occupied an ambivalent political and social status where they were elevated above blacks but constantly reminded that they were inferior to whites. Categorization under apartheid was illogical and arbitrary: if someone "appeared" white enough due to skin color, accent, or mannerism, they could get reclassified as white. They could also get demoted to Black. Ethnic groups were assigned arbitrarily: Chinese people were classified as Black, while Japanese were classified as white. Noah is in a particularly ambivalent position because he largely identifies as Black and proudly speaks African languages, but he also speaks perfect English and is well-educated.

Noah's isolation and difference mean that he is often the target of bullying. For example, a girl tricks him into stealing his bicycle because he is so eager and excited that someone is showing him friendly behavior. On another occasion, a group of older boys throws mulberries at him. His mother thinks the incident is funny, but when Noah tells Abel what happened, he realizes he can manipulate Abel's anger in order to get revenge. Sure enough, Abel tells Noah to take him to the boys who bullied him. Once they find them, Abel catches one of the children and whips him with a tree branch. Watching the violence, Noah experiences first pleasure and then horror. The boy's father later comes to the house to confront Abel but ends up also being frightened of him.


In this section, Noah grapples with both the grief caused and the lessons taught by personal relationships. His relationship with his childhood dog Fufi and his father cause him pain, but they also shape him into the man he becomes. The episode with Fufi is mostly played for comedic effect, but it also includes some poignant lessons. Noah's explanation of finding out that Fufi was deaf all along highlights that we don't always have full context about a situation. While it seems like Fufi is simply stupid, she is actually grappling with real challenges. In a similar way, Fufi's second family causes the young Noah a lot of pain. It also ends up teaching him a valuable lesson, in part because his mother helps him to make meaning out of it. If Patricia had not been there to help Noah see the lesson of the situation, he might simply have focused on the pain instead. This is another way in which Patricia helps her son to mature and grow.

Similarly, Patricia plays a key role in reuniting Noah with his father Robert. Noah has resigned himself to the fact that the two have lost touch, but he still feels sadness and a sense of loss. Patricia wisely notices that Noah would be at more peace with his identity if he had a better relationship with his father. Noah has had the benefit of having strong ties with the Black, African roots of his identity through his mother and her extended family, but he needs more context around what he has gotten from his father's side. Noah experiences joy when he realizes that his father has always cared about him and felt proud of him. Nonetheless, in his excitement, Noah pushes too hard. Just like he has to learn from Fufi that he can't control the actions of others, he learns from Robert that he can't force a relationship on his own terms, and he will have to be patient.

Along with these personal lessons, Noah continues to grapple with his place in South African society as he grows older. Because Noah's persona and behavior are a combination of things he's learned from different communities, he signals himself as an outsider. As Deborah Posel explains, "While understood and represented as a biological phenomenon, 'race' was also crucially a judgment about social standing. Constructions of a person’s race were based as much on 'modes of living' as on physical appearance" (pg. 94). Noah's inability to fit neatly into understandings of how a person of a given race should behave means that he is often lonely. While being bullied by other children seems like mostly a personal loss, it offers another insight into how apartheid had a personal impact on the lives of all South Africans. In a society where fitting into racial categories is so important, being different is barely tolerated.