Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
I’m sure you’re familiar with Trevor Noah. He’s a South African comedian who made it to the Daily Show, replacing Jon Stewart. “Born a Crime” focuses on Noah’s humble beginnings; his childhood and young adulthood in South Africa. Is it worth a read? Totally!
As you would expect from a comedian, Noah’s memoir is funny. Like a lot of his work, though, it’s not funny ha ha, more bitter kind of funny. He often finds humor in horrible and sad places. It’s not surprising as it can often be used as a tool of dealing with a harsh reality. Noah in his book jokes about everything: from the horrible rules of apartheid, through not having a toilet to having a slightly intense mother. Sarcasm and irony are very powerful tools, which make his narrative more moving.
Already the circumstances of his birth are heavy. He was born to a white man and a black woman in times were interracial relationships were forbidden by the South African law (hence the catchy title, “Born a Crime”). His mom seemed to be quite a rebel who navigated her life through the limitations of racist politics and sexist communities. It’s probably through her belief that impossible doesn’t exist that she ended up bringing up a son who achieved so much. Noah seems to have a tremendous respect for his mother, even if he often disagrees with her views. To me she’s more of a scary character with her religious devotion bordering on fanaticism. She did, however, always try to give the best she could to her three children. Getting them out of a township and giving them a good education, was definitely helpful in them having prospects for a better future than she herself had.
Noah doesn’t feel sorry for himself, neither glorifies his poor background. I was really impressed with his explanations of apartheid and other parts of the complicated South African history. Honestly, his straight to the point descriptions give you a better understanding of racial mechanisms, discrimination and related issues than history and sociology books provide in thousands of pages. I was really impressed by his sensitivity that I did not have a gist of from his stand-up shows. He didn’t have it easy in the beginning of his life not only due to the political system but also because of the domestic abuse he and his mother experienced from her husband and Trevor’s step dad. The institutionalized minimization of the problem of violence against women eventually led to a tragedy in Noah’s family… This part of his memoir is a very important narrative as it touches upon the issue of domestic violence in South Africa, which is still a massive problem.
Perhaps the only thing that may be considered slightly negative about this book is that we learn almost nothing about Noah’s career. I’d be curious to read more about it. We do get some insight into Noah’s resourcefulness, so we can have a vague idea about how he managed to achieve his success. Still, I hope that one day he will write more about it. “Born a Crime” is a really well-written book that apart from being a story about Noah, gives the reader a glimpse into understanding the problems which modern South Africa is facing. He is a gifted writer and this book is one of the best I’ve read this year.