Fans of The Daily Show will already recognise Trevor Noah for his sharp wit and insightful commentary on race in the US. So it comes as no surprise that his memoir delivers more of the same. Born to a black South African mother and a white Swiss father in apartheid South Africa, Noah was quite literally in his words ‘born a crime’.
The way in which apartheid worked ensured that he had a very complex upbringing – from having at times to pretend his mother wasn’t really his mother, to finding ways to fit in with the other kids at school. Noah recalls the memories of his childhood with humour and fondness, whilst exposing apartheid with its illogical beliefs about race and humanity and the damaging legacy it has wrought in South Africa today.
What was surprising for me was that the ‘star’ of this memoir was not Trevor Noah, as you would expect, but his mother Patricia. She was the real MVP! Her strident faith and belief herself and her sons, allowed her (and by extension Noah) to overcome some incredible odds. And I really mean incredible! Truly, I kept reading this book for more stories about her. The combination of tough love interspersed with affection will be one most readers from an African background will recognise, but there was something about her brand of self-determination that really struck a chord with me personally. When asked why she insisted on teaching Trevor ‘white things’ such as taking him to ice rinks and drive-ins, usually the preserve of white South Africans, her response is classic and possibly my favourite:
…even if he never leaves the ghetto, he will know that the ghetto is not the world. If that is all I accomplish, I’ve done enough.
I would say that Born a Crime does live up to expectation. Trevor Noah is both likeable and personable, though as a child he was more than handful (he actually burnt down a house!). Definitely recommend reading especially as it’s soon to become a film adaptation starring Lupita N’yongo who will play his mother.