Last year for Christmas, my brother and sister-in-law got me a signed copy of Born a Crime (2016) by Trevor Noah. It was a perfect gift because I was already waiting for it to become available at the library. I’d watched Trevor Noah enough on The Daily Show to come to like him and appreciate his humor. I knew that he was South African, but not much else. It wasn’t until I saw him doing an interview talking about his book that I realized he had some fascinating personal stories to tell. I very much enjoyed his book and I appreciate his comedy and insights even more now that I know more about him.
I had, of course, learned about Apartheid in South Africa, but I did not understand some of its intricacies. I just assumed that the racism used to consolidate power of the white people in South Africa was similar to that used in the United States to justify slavery. However, Trevor’s mother is black and his father is a white Swiss German. This made him “colored,” a specific class in South Africa that was not allowed to mix with either whites or blacks. This made Trevor’s existence a literal crime, as it was evidence of a relationship between races and could have led to jail time for his parents. Trevor and his mother had to be careful when they were out. His mother had to pretend he wasn’t her son if there were police around. Trevor Noah was too young to fully comprehend what was happening at the time, but it’s hard to even imagine growing up like that.
Noah goes into a fair amount of detail about his life and upbringing in South Africa. He focuses on his childhood and teen years. There is no information on his current life or how he ended up on The Daily Show, which is fine, because it’s not the point of the book. Trevor Noah was smart, energetic, and constantly getting into trouble. His childhood is endlessly fascinating.
But more than anything, this book felt like a heartfelt love letter to his mother. She was incredibly strong and courageous, bravely bucking boundaries and stereotypes to give Noah as many experiences and advantages as she could, despite her incredibly limited circumstances. It is without a doubt that Trevor Noah would not be where he is without her. I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but her story is unforgettable.
This book was, at times, informative, hilarious, and heartbreaking. I loved it, and it’s made me like Trevor Noah and The Daily Show even more than I did before.
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