This memoir (304 pages) was published in November of 2016 by One World. The book takes you to Apartheid South Africa. David read Born A Crime and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it.
Forget everything you know about celebrity memoirs. Yes, this book from the host of The Daily Show is supremely charming and entertaining. But Trevor Noah subverts expectations, mostly circumventing his rise in Hollywood to tell the story of growing up a mixed-race child in just-post-Apartheid South Africa.
Noah’s father was white and Swiss-German; his mother was Black and Xhosa. When he entered the world, interracial relationships were illegal in South Africa. That use of ‘crime’ in the title? Not hyperbole. Through refreshingly honest, often funny, sometimes heartbreaking stories, we meet Trevor the Troublemaker, Trevor the son, and ultimately, the man he became.
Without a doubt, you will understand the horrors of living in a segregated country. Noah’s mixed race meant he wasn’t really welcome anywhere. He makes a strong case that Apartheid was very good at getting people to hate people who weren’t like them — even if they were just a little not like them.
The surprising gift of the book’s final act is that you also meet his mom. Fearless, rebellious, and religious, she loves him deeply. But she also knows what time it is. Here is just one story that demonstrates her clarity and parenting skills. Teenaged Trevor walks into the house, ignoring her, as teens are wont to do. Her reaction:
’ No, Trevor! You look at me. You acknowledge me. Show me that I exist to you because the way you treat me is the way you will treat your woman. Women like to be noticed. Come and acknowledge me and let me know that you see me. Don’t just see me when you need something.’
Throughout the book, she shows him a world beyond their present situation — which, by the by, was dire — ‘sleeping in cars’ and ‘eating caterpillars’ dire. But though the hardships, he continues to expose him to things beyond the ghetto, ensuring he would know ‘the ghetto is not the world.’
No spoilers, but the book’s last chapter is worth the admission price. It’s a good story, well-told, with a lot of feelings.
Heads-up! Trevor Noah narrates the audiobook version, and — no surprise — it’s fantastic. He honed his storytelling skills as a stand-up comic, and hearing his life unfold in his voice is a powerful experience.
The legal definition of a white person under Apartheid was ‘one who in appearance is obviously a white person who is generally not accepted as a coloured person; or is generally accepted as a white person and is not in appearance obviously a white person.’ It was completely arbitrary, in other words. That’s where the government came up with things like the pencil test. If you were applying to be white, the pencil went into your hair. If it fell out, you were white. If it stayed in, you were colored. You were what the government said you were. Sometimes that came down to a lone clerk eyeballing your face and making a snap decision. Depending on how high your cheekbones were or how broad your nose was, he could tick whatever box made sense to him, thereby deciding where you could live, whom you could marry, what jobs and rights and privileges you were allowed. — Trevor Noah
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