Born a Crime By Trevor Noah – Book Review
I had to really sit down and reflect on Born a crime by Trevor Noah, to absorb the depth of the pain behind the stories so lightly told. I had to put myself in his shoes and feel what this sense of not belonging felt like.
The history of the natives of South Africa is probably not given the same eminence as the Jews from Nazi Germany or the Indians of America. But Trevor Noah’s book sheds light on this subject from a personal perspective.
Trevor Noah is a comedian, and a good one and he tried to make light of many situations in this book, be it being thrown out of a moving car or being held up in lock-up. But in the memoirs that he shared, the lessons of hope and positivity, wit and sarcasm shine through the cracks of Apartheid, racism, abuse, and lack of protection.
The Tower of Babel
The divide caused within the black majority, the institutionalized racism and the chaos caused afterward is a story unto itself which goes all the way back to 1652. The natives of the land were divided into sects according to language and that made the divide and rule policy of the government easier to implement. But his mother’s defiant survival and teaching Trevor the same with a smile on the face, her foresight into learning multiple languages exhibit true courage and fortitude.
“In America you had the forced removal of the native onto reservations, coupled with the slavery, followed by segregation. Imagine all of these three things happening to the same group of people at the same time. That was Apartheid.”
Born a Crime
The life of Trevor Noah, from the beginning, was a battle against the system, a son of a white Swiss father and Xhosa black mother, a crime under apartheid punishable by five years in prison. He was an African in his soul and upbringing, but colored or white in his appearance. And throughout his childhood, he tried to find his niche and belong. The story that he tells is, in turns, hilarious, dramatic and deeply moving. In essence, through his story, he has described poverty and what it ensues, racism and the repercussions of the divide that follows, laws and the flaws therein, and he’s done it with his incisive wit and unapologetic honesty.
Trevor Noah spent years in the hood, a neighborhood where he was a hustler, selling pirated CD’s and working as a DJ.
“In the hood , even if you’re not a criminal, crime is in your life in some way or another. There are degrees of it. Its, everyone from the mom buying the food that fell off the back of a truck to feed her family, all the way up to the gangs selling military grade weapons. The hood made me realize that crime does the one thing governments don’t do. Crime cares. Crime looks for young kids who need support and a lifting hand. Crime offers internship programs and summer jobs and opportunities of advancement. Crime gets involved in the community. Crime doesn’t discriminate”
The Perseverance of a Mother’s Love
Even though Born a Crime makes for an interesting read, but his disquieting narration of the abusive marriage of his mother, her unheard plea for help, and the eventual fate that awaited her show the fatal flaw in patriarchal societies where women feel it easier to put up with domestic abuse than ask the law for help.
His mother, a woman resolute in her faith, and her commitment to her children and marriage, regardless of setbacks caused by the political system and domestic discontent. What resonated greatly with me was his mother’s attitude towards life. It takes great strength to stand up against a system, and she did that on many fronts. She refused to become what Apartheid expected her to become, she refused to bow down to society, she refused to give up on her children, she was stoic in her faith like few people can be, and most of all, she is a literal survivor of an abusive marriage.
One of my favorite phrase in the book is about love and relationships. “Relationships are not sustained by violence but by love. Love is a creative act. When you love someone you create a new world for them. My mother did that for me, and with the progress I made and the things I learned, I came back and created a new world and a new understanding for her”
A Must Read
This book resonates with a reader on many levels. With Trevor’s signature wit, it’s a journey of self-discovery, a journey of pitfalls and highs, love and faith. This New York Times bestseller shows the coming of age of a boy who should not have existed in the first place, his naughty childhood, the struggles of his youth and his coming of age as we know him today, as the host of The daily show.
Even though Born A Crime was written more than two years ago, the unassuming wit and the universal message of triumph despite all odds made it my top recommendation over many newer books.
Trevor Noah’s straight forward and comical narration, describing the hardest times of his life, struck a chord with me. Instead of becoming the victim of circumstances, he decided to laugh his way through life, bringing joy to millions of people who watch him. He chose to always look on the bright side and with a smile on his face, and that in itself was a victory over his past.
Mona Wahid holds a Bachelors Degree in Law and Political science. She runs a Facebook group called “Reader’s Lounge” and is also the moderator of her Islamabad-based book club.
Mona is an avid reader and a mother of 3.