My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Let me tell you how much I enjoyed reading Trevor Noah’s memoir, Born a Crime. When I got home late Thursday night aka Shonda Rhimes Night aka Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal Night, I opted to continue reading to finish the book, instead of tuning in to the tear-jerker and suspenseful shows, respectfully. I could’ve easily saved the last few pages for the train ride to work the next morning, but the beauty of DVR is that you can watch later and skip the commercials. The only thing I catch live these days is the nightly news.
Before settling in for the last 15-20 pages, I emailed my coworker, once again, to let her know how much I was enjoying the book. I could’ve texted, but you know, I like to respect boundaries, especially when the person is a married, a co-worker not a friend, and it’s late evening.
I was hooked from the very beginning of the memoir. As I read I could hear Noah’s lovely South African accent in my head. It read just like he was with me on the train or in my living room hosting his show or performing one of his Netflix stand-up specials. At times, I wished I listened to the audiobook instead.
Trevor Noah has been on my radar for years, but I paid him little attention. Once he took over for Jon Stewart on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show in 2015. I enjoyed catching clips that came up in my social media feed. I officially crossed over into fan territory when he obliterated Tomi Loren’s ignorant and racist notions when she was a guest on his show.
At one point in the interview, Lahren states: “To me, true diversity is diversity of thought, not diversity of color. I don’t see color.” Not missing a beat, Noah makes a face and asks, “You don’t see color? So what do you do at a traffic light?” As the audience erupts in laughter and applause, Noah continues, “Um, I don’t believe in that at all, when people say that. There’s nothing wrong with seeing color. It’s how you treat color that’s more important.” That’s one of many quips, but it’s one of my favorites Noah used to discredit her ridiculous comments.
There are so many reasons that claiming to be colorblind as a defense to being called racist is asinine, never mind infuriating, but instead of saying so, Noah made it obvious with that simple question. Almost every time that clip of the Tomi Lahren segment showed up in my social media feed, I watched it, or at least listened to it, with the window minimized while I typed away on my computer at work. This is how I began my series DVR recording of The Daily Show.
When I read that Noah would be on a panel with Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, the Nigerian-born author of Americanah (loved!) at the PEN America World Voices Festival this past May, I purchased a ticket, which included copies of both his memoir, Born a Crime and Adichie’s book Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions.
I know it shouldn’t, but each time I read the memoir of a comedian or funny person, it never fails to shock me that they’ve had difficult, troubled, maybe even tortured pasts. People like Kevin Hart, Amy Schumer, and Noah are talented and skilled enough to make millions of people laugh, but reading their stories of sick, absent, or drug-addicted parents makes me respect them even more. Trevor Noah seems like the type of person to have a natural and constant happy disposition. It was mind boggling to read how much he had gone through during his childhood and young adulthood in South Africa, yet has a great sense of humor and unwavering sense of empathy for others.
The title is not a joke. Trevor Noah was literally born a crime. He was born to a white father and a black mother when apartheid was in full effect in South Africa. His mother often had to dress like a maid and pretend to be his caretaker when walking in public together because she could’ve been arrested and he could’ve been taken away. Being a mixed child was confusing for Noah who didn’t fit in with the whites, blacks or coloreds at the schools and churches he attended, never mind when he was in other public spaces. Growing up with his black side of the family, he assumed he was just like them, and that the world saw him that way.
At the beginning of the book, Noah dedicates the book to and again thanks his mother in the acknowledgements at the back of the book. She was a no nonsense woman who decided to have a child so she could have someone to love, which is what she point blank told Trevor’s biological father, whom she met and befriended while living in the same building. Because it was illegal and because she had no interest in doing so, the two never married. She did, however, marry a man who turned out to be controlling, alcoholic and abusive towards her and Noah. Growing up, Noah constantly butted heads with his mother about her strong, unwavering, and overbearing faith, going to church several times a week, sometimes more than once in a single day, but her faith is quite possibly the only thing that saved her life after a near-fatal incident with her then-husband.
That incident, towards the end of the memoir, is the only part that seems like it’s part of a totally separate book. Even while talking about the struggles of being poor, not having enough to eat, not fitting in, enduring heartbreak, becoming a self-made party DJ, being arrested, Noah still manages to narrate in a humorous tone of voice. But when writing about seeing his mother get hit, and having to visit her in the hospital after receiving a life altering phone call from his younger brother, Noah’s voice wrings your heart. I had to close the book for a moment to gather myself on the train. Dear, sweet, funny Trevor wrote about bawling his eyes out. I couldn’t handle it!
Like most bookworms, my To Read list will outlive even my grandchildren. I buy books in hardcover and wait so long to read them, they’re released in paperback. When a co-worker mentioned interest in wanting to read Born a Crime, I offered her my copy even though I hadn’t read it yet. (I made sure to crack the spine first because I love the sound of cracking the spine of new hardcover book.) She returned it within a week, leaving it on my desk on a day I worked from home. When I returned to the office, attached to the cover was a yellow Post-It note that read “This was so good.” We have similar book tastes. I trust her. After I finished reading Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, and even though I was supposed to start All The Light We Cannot See, which I borrowed and renewed from the library twice now, I dove into Born a Crime.
I highly recommend this memoir. I have a whole new respect for Trevor Noah, whose young life was interesting enough without him having to delve into his Hollywood life beginnings and success. When I first finished the book, I had a bone to pick with him because he doesn’t. At all. The memoir ends with no mention of how he came to set foot in America, let alone become host of The Daily Show. There’s a quick throwaway mention of him touring Europe as a stand-up comic, but that’s it. Even his bio on the book flap simply states: “Trevor Noah is a comedian from South Africa.” No mention of hosting The Daily Show, where he currently lives, where he studied, how many pets he has, or other fluff author bios usually have.
I don’t have a bone to pick with Trevor Noah. The book is perfect just the way it is. After all, the subtitle is “Stories from a South African Childhood.” Knowing all that he’s endured, not only will I never cancel my series recording of The Daily Show (as long as he’s the host), but I’m going to modify it so that I can also catch the reruns.