Title – Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
Author – Trevor Noah
Type – Non-Fiction / Autobiography
Reading Prompt #1 – A book with a subtitle
I’ve always been an avid reader of fiction. But this autobiography piqued my interest. I admire Trevor Noah, and used to look forward to his satirical Daily Show, where he spared no politician or celebrity. Therefore, his personal tales of family, friendship, and crushes didn’t disappoint me. Laced with his trademark humour, it offers us a glimpse of his childhood spent in apartheid-ridden South Africa.
The book begins with a description of the Immorality Act of 1927 which outlawed sexual intercourse between white Europeans and black natives. Born to a Xhosa mother and a Swiss-German father, Trevor constantly suffered from the ramifications of such a union. His coloured appearance is a recurring theme in this memoir, treading a balance between funny anecdotes and a poignant attempt to get accepted by his own countrymen.
To me, the biggest star of this book is Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah. Here was a woman who didn’t hesitate to seek Robert’s help in conceiving a kid out of wedlock, despite the draconian law. Her dexterity in raising Trevor, her far-sightedness in picking up secretarial skills hitherto denied to blacks, and her ability to survive in a classified-crazy country speak volumes of her heroism. Strong women raise strong children. As a result, Trevor spent his growing-up years not whining about the rejection by fellow South Africans, but by finding a way to mingle with them.
Sample – I soon learned that the quickest way to bridge the gap was through language.
Trevor’s indifference towards religion and his mother’s obsession with the same elicit giggles from the reader. Here’s an example – My whole family is religious, but where my mother was Team Jesus all the way, my grandmother balanced her Christian faith with the traditional Xhosa belief she’d grown up with, communicating with the spirit of our ancestors.
This autobiography assumes greater significance in lieu of its universal appeal. Apartheid might have been relegated to history, but racism and polarisation still thrive. When Trevor writes – We’d fall into the same trap the government had set for us and fight among ourselves, believing that we were different – a sense of déjà vu envelopes the reader.
I would have loved to delve deeper into Trevor’s adolescence and his days in America. Maybe that’s for another day. It ended a bit abruptly, with his mother recovering miraculously from a gunshot. However, there’s no denying the fact that this is an enjoyable read. As I read about his escapades, I could visualise the talk-show host fearlessly taking pot-shots at US presidents. At the same time, it makes you feel thankful for your near-privileged upbringing.
If you can take humour in the right spirit, this book is worth your time and investment. My admiration for Trevor Noah went up several notches after getting a glimpse of his troubled times. I firmly believe that humour is sacred and can tide you through difficult times. Born a Crime just reinforces my notion.