“Where most children are the proof of their parent’s love, I was the proof of their criminality.”
Trevor Noah is a South African comedian who rose to fame upon hosting the acclaimed American satirical news program, The Daily Show. His book, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, is an autobiographical comedy that went on to become a #1 New York Times’ bestseller and garnered praise from several reputed US-based book reviewers. In it, he describes the colorful experiences of his childhood in the backdrop of a racially-charged environment of South Africa, both before and after the acridity of apartheid.
“The doctors took her up to the delivery room, cut open her belly, and reached in and pulled out a half-white, half-black child who violated any number of laws, statutes, and regulations – I was born a crime.”
Being a world-famous comedian, Noah has artfully blended humor in a narrative that highlights the gruesome reality that the natives of South Africa survived under the tyranny of systemic racism. His stories are immensely informative about how the pre-independence government of South Africa systematically oppressed people through arbitrary rules that dictated their entire lives based on the color of their skin. However, since it’s an autobiography, the reader is not just limited to that. Noah paints a vivid picture of a life affected by racism and apartheid but not dictated by it.
The clear protagonist of the book is not Noah but his mother. The entire book is an ode to the strength and perseverance of a mother who rejected the ridiculous restrictions of a society built upon inherent evil and decided to raise a son with all the wisdom and love she had in her. Noah has interspersed the narrative (much like how he received them in his real life) with gems of wisdom that his mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah, imparted to him concerning women, society and life in general.
“Being a man is not what you have, it’s who you are. Being more of a man doesn’t mean your woman has to be less than you.”
““Learn from your past and be better because of your past,” she would say, “don’t cry about your past. Life is full of pain. Let the pain sharpen you, but don’t hold on to it. Don’t be bitter.” And she never was.”
“She was preparing me to live a life of freedom long before we knew freedom would exist.”
The whole thing is a potpourri of humor and tragedy and most times the amalgamation of both. Certain anecdotes from his life would make you actually roll on the floor and laugh while some will bring you to tears. What is even more fascinating is that one minute you are laughing at what he just said, but then when you let it sink in, you realize the sheer adversity of the scenario. It makes you pause and think. His struggles with existing as an anomaly, as a mixture of identities that was illegal to even exist, capture the reader’s mind and heart alike. One can clearly see how his experiences in life have shaped him as an individual. His ability to let bygones be bygones and look ahead, which he inherited from his mother, is commendable.
The narrative is easy-going and simple, which seems vital to tackle the heavy subjects Noah has portrayed in his autobiography. His ability to sew in inspiring pieces of wisdom into a seemingly simple string of words is mind-blowing. The book ends with the mother and son laughing off another life-altering event and reinforcing the fact that life goes on.
It is a must-read, particularly for the peculiar way Noah has highlighted his early life adversities with humor. An inspirational book, it engages you in witty portrayals of a life lived with wisdom learned through many a hardship. On a scale of 1 to 5, Born a Crime warrants a 4 for its engaging narrative and a simple yet compelling pace of narration. If you’re a fan of artful comedy, this book is definitely for you.