Sunday, 7 May 2017

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood

Author: Trevor Noah
Genre: Autobiography
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 304
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Spiegel and Grau (Random House Canada)
First Published: November 15, 2016
First Line: "The genius of Apartheid was convincing people who were the overwhelming majority to turn on each other."

Book Description from GoodReadsThe compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of one man's coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed. 

Trevor Noah's unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents' indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa's tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle. 

Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man's relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother: his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

The eighteen personal essays collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother's unconventional, unconditional love.

My Rating: 5/5 stars

My Review: When Jon Stewart left The Daily Show I was bereft. I did so love his witty, honest commentary and I had never heard of this 'Trevor Noah' guy who would replace him. But I needn't have worried. Noah quickly became one of my favourite 'tell-it-like-it-is' comedic commentators on current events and I wanted to know more about him.

In his book, through a series of vignettes, Noah shows his readers what life was like for him as a bi-racial child, who never felt like he really fit in, during post-Apartheid South Africa. He shares funny, loving, awkward and negative aspects of his childhood and many of his descriptions of the harsh realities of living in South Africa at that time will hit you like a punch in the gut. He was a self-proclaimed sh*t disturber as a child and teenager and some of his antics made me want to yell "What the heck were you thinking?!?" He definitely liked to stir things up.

“The names of the kids with detention were announced at every assembly, and I was always one of them. Always. Every single day. It was a running joke. The prefect would say, ‘Detentions for today…’ 
and I would stand up automatically. It was like the Oscars and I was Meryl Streep.” 

I respect his brutal honesty and I love, love, LOVED the special, yet often complicated, bond he had with his mother -- the ultra-religious, determined, fierce, rebellious woman who wanted so much more for her son. Though a few of her parenting methods may surprise some, her deep love for her son is indisputable.

She’d say things to me like, “It’s you and me against the world.” I understood even from an 
early age that we weren’t just mother and son. We were a team.”

Growing up I learned about Apartheid in school but I know I only got the bare gist of it. In stark contrast, Noah brings a human side to the economic and social aspects of segregation, hatred and the blatant violation of human rights and basic decency that one group withheld from so many others.

“Language brings with it an identity and a culture, or at least the perception of it. A shared 
language says ‘We’re the same.’ A language barrier says ‘We’re different.’ The architects of 
apartheid understood this. Part of the effort to divide black people was to make sure 
we were separated not just physically but by language as well…The great thing about 
language is that you can just as easily use it to do the opposite: convince people 
that they are the same. Racism teaches us that we are different because of the color of our skin. 
But because racism is stupid, it’s easily tricked.” 

"People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing."
This book is filled with wonderfully quotable tidbits (far too many to list here). The only thing I regret about this book is that I couldn't get my hands on a copy of the audiobook. Having Noah read the book to me would have been the icing on the proverbial cake. 

Before reading this book, I was already a fan of Trevor Noah. I enjoyed his honest yet humourous approach to current events (and his dimples didn't hurt either). He's obviously a well-informed and funny guy but, after reading this book, I have a better understanding of where he comes from. Trevor Noah will make you laugh, cry and give you much to think about. The hype surrounding this book is duly given. I highly recommend this book. 

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