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On The Daily Show, host Trevor Noah mentions his South African upbringing often, but in his new memoir Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, he goes much deeper into the complexities of South African history and culture, as well as his own past.
In Born a Crime, Noah tells stories from some of his earliest memories of childhood through early adulthood when he began his career as a comedian. The stories are not always chronological, and they seem to be organized by content rather than by a timeline. There are stories about his mother, his father, his stepfather, school, language, race, crime, dating, and plenty in between.
Noah’s perspective is unique as a mixed race South African born during apartheid; he spent his childhood as an outsider, trying to navigate a world where he didn’t quite fit into any one group. During apartheid, his existence as the child of a black mother and white father was actually illegal.
Throughout the book, Noah also presents some really thought-provoking ideas about race and language, and tells stories of how his ability to speak multiple languages allowed him to bridge a lot of the gaps that his mixed race often created.
“When you make the effort to speak someone else’s language, even if it’s just basic phrases here and there, you are saying to them, ‘I understand that you have a culture and identity that exists beyond me. I see you as a human being.”
The true star of Noah’s memoir is his mother — his relationship with her is central to the book. She is feisty, passionate, religious, stubborn, and a strict disciplinarian, but the incredible love between mother and son is clear, and Noah acknowledges that he owes his success to his mother and her determination to show him what was possible in the world.
“’People thought my mom was crazy. Ice rinks and drive-ins and suburbs, these things were izinto zabelungu — the things of white people. So many people had internalized the logic of apartheid and made it their own. Why teach a black child white things? Neighbors and relatives used to pester my mom: ‘Why do this? Why show him the world when he’s never going to leave the ghetto?’
‘Because,’ she would say, ‘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 can’t recommend this compelling memoir enough. I would 100% recommend this book to even the most casual Daily Show viewers (myself included). I listened to the audio version and, if you have that option, I would HIGHLY suggest it. Noah’s narration was extremely well-done and really brings his stories and the people in them to life.