Some know Trevor Noah from his rise to fame as a stand-up comedian or simply as the host of “The Daily Show.” Others at Montclair State University might recognize Noah from his interview on campus during the inaugural Montclair Literary Festival (MLF) to discuss his memoir this past March.
In “Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood,” the famous personality is broken down to a boy in South Africa finding a balance between maintaining and thriving under circumstances placed on him and his family during and post-apartheid.
Almost surprisingly, the comic’s breakout book hardly addresses his rise to fame, move to the United States, or his choice to take on a hosting role at “The Daily Show” during a time when he was experiencing global success for his work in stand-up. However, in his 2011 documentary, “You Laugh But It’s True” Noah uses his fame in order to shed a light on the more present state of South Africa and its entertainment industry.
Noah’s documentary allotted space for him to touch on the hardships of his childhood and give South Africa an image for those who had no knowledge outside of the general idea that Africa is underdeveloped and faces a lot of issues. This unenlightened idea is one that many people, especially in the United States, have of the continent. In “Born a Crime,” Noah expands on what life was like during and post apartheid through the lens of his experiences, something a documentary about comedy in South Africa did not leave room for.
Throughout the book, Noah makes it clear that a part of recounting his experiences is to pay homage to his mother’s choice to fight against systems and challenge both communal and governmental norms in South Africa in order to create her own reality within her community. He notes that her longing for education, religious connection and higher quality of life enabled him to truly grow into himself. During his formative years, Noah’s mother taught him six languages, including English, in order to give him the ability to survive within their environment and navigate the world.
Each chapter of the book begins with a page to set the state of South Africa at the time the Noah family experienced victories and hardships. He recounts how it felt and what daily life entailed for him being the product of a Xhosa woman and a Swiss-German man under apartheid. Noah illustrates how his life was a form of art and objection to conformity from the beginning. He depicts himself as a motif in his mother’s life journey.
Within the memoir, he expresses how some of their hardships were a result of his mother’s belief that some things are meant to be difficult in order to humble you. He almost humorously depicts some of their sufferings as a virtue because it was her choice. At the same time, Noah recounts sobering experiences of domestic abuse within some South African homes, including his own. The escalation of it is chilling but the triumph afterward is touching.
While the work deals with serious subjects, it is riddled with lighthearted recounts from his childhood. He also says how he didn’t grow to be funny, but it is innate. The way humor shines through each chapter allows the book to not feel heavy or difficult to read.
Overall, Noah brings his fans down to earth. The raw reality of struggles within community, hunger, identity, domestic abuse and the law within South Africa are all given life. His work offers truths of the world that his fans and readers may not know.
The book gives South Africa’s communities a beating heart—something that all readers would benefit from.