One of my favorite kind of books to read is one that takes me someplace I have never been and introduces me to a culture that I have never experienced. Trevor Noah was born to a Xhosa mom and Swiss dad while apartheid was still in force in South Africa. His birth was evidence of a crime, I’m not sure I would go as far to say that he was born a crime, but “Born a Crime” grabs your attention a lot better than “My Birth Was Evidence of My Parents’ Crimes.”
The beauty of this memoir is that you journey with Trevor from his childhood into his early adulthood, and watch how South Africa transforms as he grows. You see the transition from apartheid to Nelson Mandela’s government, and how all the different “homelands” adjusted to the shifts in power. My favorite stories that he tells are the ones from the different schools he attended. The clearest picture of how the different degrees of racial identity (white, colored, black) interacted with each other is painted by the behavior of these children.
With all the discussion of white supremacy and the need to resist the rise of Nazi influence in this country, it was informative and interesting to see how South Africa convinced the majority black and colored (Noah’s word) population to live under apartheid. The methods they used to reinforce infighting between the many different tribes that lived there, the way they exploited the existence of so many languages (South Africa has 11 national languages!) to confuse as well as encourage miscommunication and distrust, that level of confusion and infighting created an environment where whites could reign supreme. There is a lot that we could learn from this memoir politically, racially, and structurally in terms of power. If you are not familiar with apartheid and how it was overthrown, Noah’s book is a fantastic narrative to take you on a basic, open-bus tour of the phenomenon while you are also learning about the personal history of a rising star in late-night television.
At around 300 pages it’s a relatively moderate read, and the essays are so funny and enjoyable that you’ll find yourself reading through it quickly. If you’re feeling in a memoir mood, check it out. I thoroughly enjoyed it.