Born in South Africa of a Xhosa mother and a Swiss-German father, at a time when such unions directly violated the law of the land, Trevor Noah was literally born a crime. There are not many people that can make growing up bi-racial in apartheid South Africa humorous. But that is exactly what Trevor Noah does in his book, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. The host of “The Daily Show”, Noah easily oscillates back and forth between witty anecdotes and poignant observations. His stories simultaneously amuse us and dishearten us.
Through his lens, we witness the challenges he faced being bi-racial – never being accepted as either black or white — never quite fitting in anywhere. We chuckle at his mischievous spirit that resulted in numerous ‘whoopings’ from his mother. We appreciate his entrepreneurship and business savvy in pirating CDs and DJ’ing parties to earn a living on the streets. We cringe at the domestic violence he witnessed and endured. And we marvel at his ability to use language to navigate the tumultuous social and racial landscape. Trevor gives us a gritty look at the harsh experiences endured in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa.
And while all of that makes reading this book a worthwhile endeavor, it is nothing compared to the lovely ballad he has composed for his mother within its pages. A fiercely strong and intensely religious woman, she wanted nothing but the best for her son. Her judgment was swift and quite often, harsh. But she was determined to instill in him a sense of right and wrong. And to imbue Trevor with a sense of freedom, long before freedom was even possible for him. Trevor’s love and admiration for his mother permeates every page and every story. This is not just Trevor’s memoir, while subtle, it is also an ode to his beautiful mother. Touché Trevor.
As each chapter/essay travels back and forth in time and place, the book seems somewhat disjointed at times. Regardless, Trevor is an amazing storyteller. And his observations on growing up in South Africa during these difficult times, are something we all need to read to appreciate.