In the world of celebrity memoirs, this book is a gem. Although Noah gives us bits and pieces of how he got from the ‘hoods of Johannesburg to replacing Jon Stewart on the Daily Show (ie: being the funny guy to avoid being an outcast), his book is really about growing up mixed race under apartheid in South Africa. The stories are sometimes almost too wild to believe (he was pushed from a moving car to escape a potential murder or assault, the domestic violence described is heartbreaking yet with a miraculous outcome, etc.) but my biggest takeaway is how after reading this book, I can imagine what it would feel like to have grown up where and when Noah did. Although I knew the basics about apartheid before I read this book, and I’ve read other South African books that also address social and political issues, albeit from a white point of view (J.M. Coetzee, I’m looking at you), Noah brings colour and life to the facts I already knew. This colour and life comes in stories about how hard his Mom worked to skirt the system and build a life outside of the township where she was supposed to live, or about how the concept of race, and racism, literally makes people blind to what is in front of their faces (or on their surveillance video monitors), or about how the gift of something small, like a CD burner, can be a ticket to a whole different standard of living. I also enjoyed the way that he writes about his mother throughout- this is as much her story as his. Finally, the point that struck me the most from the whole memoir was something I don’t think we discuss often enough when we talk about income disparity and poverty, namely how it limits the kind of future you can envision for yourself. Noah is effusive and blunt about how his mother went out of her way to give him the kind of experiences that a white kid would have had- trips to museums, car drives in the countryside, etc. He expressly and eloquently comments on how these activities gave him the idea that the world was bigger and broader than that which their race and station might otherwise have limited them to, and let him feel that he was entitled to that bigger and broader world as much as anyone else.
On the critical side: I’ve read other reviews that commented on the somewhat jarring chronological order that Noah arranges his vignetted memories in, and although I agree, I personally didn’t find them that off-putting. Maybe its because I read the review first so I knew what to expect? Regardless, I find myself still thinking about the overarching themes, including poverty, race and love, weeks after I closed the book.