From his start in the dusty streets of suburban Maryvale in downtown Johannesburg to that glorious moment when he became the host of the American Emmy Award-winning programme ‘The Daily show’, Trevor Noah is arguably the most successful comedian in Africa. His biography, Born A Crime, keeps the reader engaged like any terrific story should. The book is a compilation of 18 personal essays detailing the coming of age of this comedy icon, one who has shown South Africans how to laugh at themselves.
Noah was born to a Swiss father and a Xhosa mother in an era when mixed-race families were illegal, hence he was, quite literally, “born a crime”. He describes himself as living proof of his parent’s indiscretion, and paints the picture of a restless young man growing up under intolerable laws, struggling with identity in a world where he was never supposed to exist. His narrative explores the influence of language in deconstructing racism and gives any reader who has not had the experience first-hand, a deeper insight into what it meant to be mixed-raced in Apartheid South Africa.
Noah introduces the reader (with his trademark humour) to his strict, fearless and fervently religious mother, who dragged him along to three church services every Sunday. He often refers to their relationship as a ‘team’, and in each chapter he highlights the many different ways she attempted to shield her son from the abuse, poverty and violence that ultimately threatened her own life.
The 18 essays are personal, dramatic and impactful, including a hilarious yet poignant account of how he survived by eating caterpillars for dinner during particularly hard times. He recalls the unfunny experience of being thrown out of a moving taxi in an attempted kidnapping, as well as the hilarious muddle as a mixed raced teenager in a Catholic school learning the rules of the dating game.
Born a Crime is a series of interrelated stories of an extraordinary South African boy witnessing the cycles of transformation from Apartheid into post-Struggle South Africa, relying solely on a keen sense of humor, the unerring hope for change, and a praying mother. Well worth the read.
Tatum-Lee Louw is a part of the Media Team at Fetola. She is a freelance writer and blogger who has a particular interest in Social Media and Digital Content producing. She is currently completing a postgraduate degree in Critical Media studies and Political communication at the University of the Western Cape. Follow Tatum-Lee Louw (@TatumLee_25) and Trevor Noah (@TrevorNoah) on Twitter.