REVIEW: BORN A CRIME BY TREVOR NOAH
“I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done in life, any choice that I’ve made. But I’m consumed with regret for the things I didn’t do, the choices I didn’t make, the things I didn’t say. 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. “What if…” “If only…” “I wonder what would have…” You will never, never know, and it will haunt you for the rest of your days.”
Prophetic words coming from someone who was arrested for stealing his stepfather’s car as well as almost arrested for shoplifting liquor filled chocolates before he even hit high school, but the life lesson is still valid.
Trevor Noah’s journey as the son of a Xhosa woman and Swiss man during the height of Apartheid and its aftermath, all the way to the hosting seat on the Daily Show was a thrilling ride if nothing else. But trust me, it was something else. This collection of essays was not only hilarious, but deeply affecting. Noah’s story taught me so much about my own country and its history that I was never taught at school and never could have even imagined.
The short stories start in the very early stages of his life, when he was about three years old, spending a lot of time at his grandmother’s house and taking on apartheid South Africa with his feisty mother who took no shit from anyone. Being mixed race in that time meant that being seen together as mother and son would land them both in trouble as it would imply that his mother had had sex with a white man which was, of course, illegal – Trevor was born a crime. He tells tales of being shoved out of a moving vehicle, secretly defecating right under his blind great-grandmother’s nose, burning down a white family’s house and so much more mischief that it is almost unbelievable.
The essays follow through into his early adult life, and Noah regales the reader with sometimes comical, sometimes poignant accounts of his first experiences in the dating scene, earning money, dealing with domestic abuse and rebuilding a relationship with his father. He touches on some very important topics, all of which are relevant especially in the world we live in today.
Through all the hilarity, this book struck me. I was honestly shocked by the sick system of black versus white, the restrictions and laws, the stolen opportunities and lives, the corruption and even the black on black racism that rose after apartheid ended. Although already vaguely aware of many of these issues, Born a Crime truly hammered them home. The way people of colour were treated, the way they were made to feel and what is still happening to this day – that is what they don’t teach you in school. To quote Noah himself, “Apartheid was bad. Nelson Mandela was freed. Let’s move on.”
I’ve always liked Trevor for his stand-up comedy. Loved him, in fact. Since reading Born a Crime, however, I respect him on a whole new level for what he went through, for sharing his story and for the incredibly positive attitude he holds throughout everything. Beautifully written and perfectly balanced between light-hearted and hard-hitting, I rated this book 4,5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. Whether you are black or white, young or old, South African or not, this story will touch you, teach you and leave you crying with laughter.
Big love to the awesome people at Pan Macmillan South Africa for sending a review copy my way and giving me the opportunity to experience this book. It was an absolute masterpiece.