Stories from a South African Childhood
When it was announced that Jon Stewart was leaving The Daily Show and all but unknown (to us) correspondent Trevor Noah had been tapped to take over, the news came with an understandable amount of trepidation. Noah had appeared just a few times on the show before the announcement and basically vanished until the transition, which meant viewers didn’t really have a chance to get to know him. Unless, of course, you’d sought out his stand up. Because Trevor Noah, while new to most of the US audience, had already made a name for himself elsewhere.
Noah is charming, smart, and funny, each of which holds equal weight in The Daily Show. But again, most of us knew little about him. And though personal stories have made their way into the show’s dialogue, this debut collection of essays offers up much more of a look inside the history and childhood that made him who he is today.
The title, Born a Crime, is true. Trevor Noah was born in South Africa during apartheid when the mixing of races (socially and otherwise) was illegal. Noah intersperses his beginning tales with a basic history of apartheid, explaining not only the law but how it came to evolve as well, offering up an honest look at a truly horrific and recent piece of world history.
Noah’s own reminiscences, while perfectly illustrating the charm and humor he’s known for, are fairly dark. He recounts, for instance, the time his mother threw him from a moving vehicle in order to escape the very possible violence about to occur at the hands of a minibus driver one Sunday. And he talks honestly about how his family handled the very fact that his very existence could have meant jail for them and/or an orphanage for him.
At the heart of the collection, though, is the fact that Noah’s mother, an extraordinary woman, is responsible for the man he is today. At a time when education and opportunity were all but nonexistent for a Xhosa woman, she pursued both. And she taught her son to think, to reason, and to dream.
Born a Crime is an amazing book that is eye-opening and shocking as well as funny. It’s addictingly readable and definitely one I’d recommend not only to fans of Trevor Noah and The Daily Show but to readers interested in an inside, and again honest, look at apartheid and South Africa.
12/16 Becky LeJeune
BORN A CRIME by Trevor Noah. Spiegel & Grau (November 15, 2016). ISBN 978-0399588174. 304p.