This is the first book review of the month! It may have taken me quite a long time to finish Born a Crime, but that is in no correlation with the quality of the writing, I was just very pre-occupied with other things this month. In fact, this book was so incredibly well written and thoughtful and funny and insightful, I don’t think the review will have to be very long.
To start with, Born a Crime is non-fiction, a memoir of sorts to be more exact. I always struggle with reviewing those, because this is someone’s life we are talking about. The things happened and that’s it, but there is still a difference in how you tell a story and Trevor Noah definitely knows how to do that!
“We spend so much time being afraid of failure, afraid of rejection. But regret is the thing we should fear most. Failure is an answer. Rejection is an answer. Regret is an eternal question you will never have the answer to.”
You may know Trevor Noah as the host of the Daily Show these days, but I heard about him a couple years before that when I browsed YouTube for comedy stand up programs. His acts immediately enticed me, as they were equally funny and thought-provoking, teaching me things about Africa while also being highly entertaining. I’ve followed his rise to global fame since and am very happy to see his success. Going into this book, I knew that it wouldn’t talk too much about his career as a comedian though, seen as Born a Crime chronicles Trevor Noah’s childhood up to his mid-twenties in South Africa.
“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited”
As much as this book was about the intricacies and injustice of apartheid and racism, it was also a love letter to Trevor’s mother. She sounds like one of the strongest, most resilient and lively people out there. You may not always agree with her methods, but you have to give her credit for the confidence and safety she instilled in her children, giving them the tools to face almost anything. There is so much respect, appreciation and plain love in their relationship, even through all the struggles and hardships, you know that Trevor’s childhood couldn’t have been so bad simply because of her presence and care. It gets especially tragic when you see domestic abuse rattling their lives and how difficult of a situation it is to deal with, especially in a country that has societal stigmas and a vastly incompetent justice system that fails to support you in any way.
“Relationships are built in the silences. You spend time with people, you observe them and interact with them, and you come to know them—and that is what apartheid stole from us: time.”
While there was a definitely presence of his mother in the book, you can equally feel the absence of his father. There are no hard feelings towards him, their entire family fell victim to circumstances. But I don’t think that anyone who hasn’t actually lived in a segregated country, can even begin to imagine the consequences of such a system. To imagine how long the system was in place and that it has affected the living situations, mindsets and relationships of the people to some extent even to this day is just mind-blowing (in the worst of ways). I very much enjoyed to read how Trevor tricked the system, found the loopholes and made his way nonetheless. Everyone just always seemed so resourceful and I found it especially interesting how easily he could prove that knowledge (be it languages, business know-how, history, etc.) can give you a certain advantage in life and how devastating it is to be denied that knowledge.
“Language brings with it an identity and a culture, or at least the perception of it. A shared language says “We’re the same.” A language barrier says “We’re different.”
“Language, even more than color, defines who you are to people.”
Finally, after this book review has already gotten way longer than I intended, I can only recommend this book to everyone out there. It gives you such an understandable view of the repercussions of apartheid and racism, but couples it with personal experiences to really add that emotional punch. I would love to read further books written by Noah, maybe about how he decided to become a comedian, but there’s no rush there.
“Being chosen is the greatest gift you can give to another human being.”
You haven’t read anything of this sort in a long while, trust me. Hopefully a new addition to everyone’s must-read list!