Review: Trevor Noah was ‘Born a Crime’

The exceptionally talented comedian and the host of the Daily Show Trevor Noah was born in South Africa as a colored child to a black mother and a Swiss father during Apartheid. He describes himself as a child whose birth got stamped as an offense. Hence, names the book likewise.

“During apartheid, one of the worst crimes you could commit was having sexual relations with a person of another race. Needless to say, my parents committed that crime”, he writes.

Trevor’s role model and hero, his mother, is a brave and fearless woman. “She had a level of fearlessness that you have to possess to take on something like she did,” Trevor observes.

Although she had a tough childhood herself when growing up in a small house with 14 occupants; she wanted to raise her son in a foremost manner.  “Just as she let the past go, she was determined not to repeat it: my childhood would bear no resemblance to hers,” he says.

His mother, also a very pious lady, is a dedicated church visitor who attends it thrice every week. Furthermore, Mr. Noah characterizes her: “We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited. Growing up in Soweto, our dream was to put another room in our house. But the highest rung of what’s possible is far beyond the world you can see. My mother showed me what was possible. The thing that always amazed me about her life was that no one showed her. No one chose her. She did it on her own. She found her way through sheer force of will.”

Perhaps her greatest worry was that her son might become the victim of “the black tax” that is “the curse of being black and poor, and it is a curse that follows you from generation to generation.”

Trevor recollects himself as a sharp child. He read and loved all the old books his mother brought him home. He spent most his time indoors; his mother guarding him against the cops and extremist groups patrolling the streets. “Behind the wall, in the yard, I could play, but not in the street. And that’s where the rest of the boys and girls were playing, in the street.”

“My cousins, the neighborhood kids, they’d open the gate and head out and roam free and come back at dusk. I’d beg my grandmother to go outside.” “Please. Please, can I go play with my cousins?” “No! They’re going to take you!” he recalls.

“My gran still tells the story of when I was three years old and, fed up with being a prisoner; I dug a hole under the gate in the driveway, wriggled through, and ran off. Everyone panicked. A search party went out and tracked me down. I had no idea how much danger I was putting everyone in. The family could have been deported, my gran could have been arrested, my mom might have gone to prison, and I probably would have been packed off to a home for colored kids.” Mr. Noah recounts his innocence and amateurishness, and also his incapability to understand circumstance as a child.

He endured in the company of women. “Wathint’AbafaziWathint’imbokodo!” was the chant they would rally to during the freedom struggle. “When you strike a woman, you strike a rock.” As a nation, we recognized the power of women, but in the home, they were expected to submit and obey.” he claims.

He retells many of his childhood adventures in the book where he would get regular beatings from his mother considering his naughtiness. His mother never supported his wrongdoings. “My mom never gave me an inch. Anytime I got in trouble it was tough love, lectures, punishment, and hidings. Every time. For every infraction. You get that with a lot of black parents. They’re trying to discipline you before the system does.” he mentions.

Despite the ill fortune, Trevor uses a humorous approach to picture the poverty that confined him in his gran’s house.

“Our toilet was in a corrugated-iron outhouse shared among the adjoining houses. Inside, there was a concrete slab with a hole in it and a plastic toilet seat on top; there had been a lid at some point, but it had broken and disappeared long ago. We couldn’t afford toilet paper, so on the wall next to the seat was a wire hanger with old newspaper on it for you to wipe. The newspaper was uncomfortable, but at least I stayed informed while I handled my business.” he portrays.

Mr.Noah recognized how to bury the hatchet. Thus, exercised different languages to crush barriers imposed by skin color between him and other people. “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.” ”  Trevor summarizes by his experience. He learned Xhosa, Zulu, Afrikaans, Sotho and of course, English.

He was later accepted in Maryvale College, an expensive private school, as the Apartheid was coming to an end. Luckily, he didn’t have to face any racism over his time there.

After his high school, he was impecunious and did not advance into getting a college education. Alternatively, he started merchandizing pirated CDs; and threw parties as per his DJ business in Alexandra “a tiny, dense pocket of a shantytown,” known as Gomorrah because it had “the wildest parties and the worst crimes.”

“The money kept rolling in and I was balling out of control.” he confides.

His mother eventually married Abel, a fierce-looking violent man, who by the end of the book shot her many times with his gun. Miraculously, the remarkable woman survived.

The book serves several genres, incorporating many woeful and relishing anecdotes; narrated by Mr. Noah from his own life and is just not an unnerving account of growing up in South Africa.

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