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BOOK REVIEW: "Born A Crime: Stories From A South African Childhood" by Trevor Noah

Spiegel & Grau
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BOOK REVIEW: Born A Cime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (Spiegel & Grau) 2016

The 2010’s have shown the world a bright new star in the comedy world. Before 2012, many people had never heard of Trevor Noah. Many of those who knew of him were apprehensive to have him replace Daily Show anchor Jon Stewart.

However, it’s been over two years since his debut episode on Comedy Central and his tenure has been expanded into 2022.

Through all the limelight and success, Noah has never forgotten the life he once lived. Frankly, because he had never left it entirely to begin with.

In 2016, Noah released his autobiography, Born A Crime: Stories From A South African Childhood. The book details his life from birth to leaving for the United States while living in the ghettos and the South African apartheid.

The novel became a #1 New York Times bestseller and was named of the most influential books of the year by National Public Radio, Esquire and the New York Times.

Noah’s upbringing starts well before his birth on February 20, 1984. His story begins in 1948 when the National Party of South Africa gained control of the government. Led by an all-white Congress, those in power were able to enforce racial segregation policies.

Different factions throughout South Africa opposed the apartheid. Violent riots and government enforcement reigned in the streets for the better part of 50 years. In the chaos, South African civil rights leader Nelson Mandela opposed the apartheid claiming the dual racism in one country would tear the country apart.

Mandela would later be arrested in 1964 and would not be released until 1990. It wouldn’t be until 1994 that he would become the first president of South Africa and serve until 1999.

In the novel, Trevor Noah recalls seeing Nelson Mandela on the tiny television in his home. Though he was only six years old when Mandela was released, Noah understood that something was happening to his country.

Noah was born into a world that hated him for the color of his skin. His mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah fell in love with a German-Swiss European named Robert in the 1980’s. Their relationship was forbidden by the South African government because race-mixing meant upper-class people were fraternizing with lesser beings.

From a young age, Noah only knew of his father from holidays when he was allowed to see him in private. During the rest of the time, Noah was raised solely by his mother who was also taking care of his younger brother.

The story of Trevor Noah is told through the eyes of a 34-year-old Noah looking back on his life with both horror and appreciation.

Aside from the being the head of the Daily Show, Noah is also known as a successful comedian and television star. It’s through this that he’s able to see the light side while delving into the darker parts of his life.

As Noah says in the novel, “You need light with the dark. If you don’t, you’ll just losing yourself in the end.”

He tells of his childhood going to church meetings with his mother. As he sat with the women of the black congregation, they would place their hands on him and ask him to pray for them.

“They asked me to pray for them because they believed, since I was partially white, that my prayers would be answered before theirs,” Noah writes.

Noah’s childhood is in the aftermath of the apartheid’s fall. Different factions of people either demanded change or to revert back to an anarchic system of self-sufficiency.

Think of the L.A. Riots but on a wider scale, if this helps.

Noah tells stories of his childhood in which he finds himself in troubles with the law or disobeying his family’s orders and getting people hurt. From accidentally burning down a white person’s home to escaping from a moving vehicle with his mother and newborn brother to escape his mother from being raped; this novel showcases the light and dark side of humanity.

As Trevor’s story rises in success, the faults of his society continue to rise in spikes. Tragedies befall Noah’s family which result in him valuing his mother as an idol rather than just a mother.

It’s his mother that is credited with shaping the man we all see before us today. It’s her discipline and loving heart that never stopped going the extra mile that pushed Noah to success. In the dedication of the novel, Noah expressed his love for his mother who remains his best, biggest fan.

In such a divisive time for this nation, it’s not for us to bury our heads in the sand. It’s for us to look at the world around us, learn from the lessons of the past and move forward with no hesitation.

What Trevor Noah provides for us is a fresh take on the lives of South Africans while offering lessons of dealing with prejudice, racism and being an outsider to the United States.

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About the Author

Brandon King

Brandon King is a journalism student at OCCC, working towards becoming a professional writer....

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