Born a Crime by Trevor Noah offers an intimate look at growing up under apartheid, domestic abuse, and patriarchy. Noah explores the trials of being poor in a racially divided system with wit, self-awareness, and cutting observations. Highly recommend!
When Trevor Noah was first announced as the replacement for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, some wondered if a comedian who was raised outside the United States would be able to bring the same edge, introspection, and awareness that made all Americans realize how absurd, hypocritical, and unhelpful American politicians can be. They shouldn’t have doubted. Noah is able to captured all of this succinctly and with candor. In the small Daily Show vignettes, Noah occasionally discusses what life was like growing up in South Africa during apartheid, and I usually want to hear him talk more about it. Born a Crime fills that gap and gives more context to Noah’s understanding of humanity, forgiveness, and moving forward.
As he candidly discusses, Noah had to be taught to pretend for many years that his father, who is white and from Switzerland, was not his father but merely an acquaintance (if that) in order to protect his mother, who is black, of Xhoso ethnicity, and from South Africa, from prison. Under apartheid, Noah’s multi-ethnicity was illegal per South African law, hence the title of the book. (Of course under racially biased laws like this, the white father would have gotten a slap on the hand, whereas the black mother faced imprisonment or worse.) Movingly, Noah describes how his grandmother, who was trying to protect Noah and his family, would only let him play in the fenced-in backyard or the contained alleyway, never in front of the house where the police may see him. The book is filled with similar anecdotes, making it was must read.
The book focuses a lot on Noah’s relationship with his mother, who did everything in her power to protect Noah including throwing herself and him from a moving car when imminent danger became evident. Noah discussed how her hard parenting style was designed to make him grow up quicker than other South African children, but in the end, it made it possible for him to survive and flourish. There is a great amount of respect that Noah has for his independent, stubborn, and loving mother, which makes it all the more heartbreaking when she marries an abusive man, who squanders the family’s money and hits and threatens both Noah and his mother. Noah, because of his age, is eventually able to leave the situation, but his mother, who does eventually leave and divorce this man, cannot escape the emotional and physical turmoil, even when she no longer lives with him. Noah describes the awfulness of being called to the hospital and being asked by the medical staff if he can afford to pay for them to save his mother who was shot in the leg and head by her ex-husband.
All of these experiences demonstrate why Noah has the experiences and awareness to be an astute heir of Jon Stewart’s, so when you’re not catching up on the episodes of The Daily Show on your DVR or watching highlights on Facebook, do give Born A Crime a read.