Book Review: Born A Crime by Trevor Noah

We all know Trevor Noah is that guy!

That guy who effortlessly (I suppose) makes you laugh till your ribs ache. I remember this one time we had gone upcountry and you know how those stay ins can sometimes get a bit monotonous, and because we don’t have unlimited internet there, we decided to download some of his standup comedy shows to watch when we want to pass time. And anytime any one of us sneaked away to watch the show you’d hear them in the silence suddenly cracking up, the kind that comes from the belly. You just couldn’t contain it, mainly because his humor is quite relatable and especially in a local setting. If you’re a local like I am, he’s got you.

Trevor Noah, Born a Crime, Good Reads

When I started reading the book, I could already tell from the way he introduced it that he writes like he speaks. I had also watched his documentary where he more or less narrates the same story. What excited me even more is how despite him having been raised in the South, I could very easily relate to his struggles and I’m from the East. Many of us have been raised in an almost similar setting. Where you’ve say had to stay with or host your relatives or where you are experiencing both sides of the divide. That you’re neither rich nor poor, but you’ve been placed in a position where you’ve been exposed to both worlds and you’re smack in the center of it all. Your relatives, your friends.

Throughout the book, I managed to visualize and understand the impact of Apartheid on the people of South Africa. Stemming from issues of racial segregation and discrimination and how Trevor dealt with them when he exposed to such circumstances. Take a scenario like this,

I learned to use language like my mother did. I would simulcast—give you the program in your own tongue. I’d get suspicious looks from people just walking down the street. “Where are you from?” they’d ask. I’d reply in whatever language they’d addressed me in, using the same accent that they used. There would be a brief moment of confusion, and then the suspicious look would disappear. “Oh, okay. I thought you were a stranger. We’re good then.”

… They were ready to do me violent harm, until they felt we were part of the same tribe, and then we were cool. That and so many other smaller incidents in my life, made me realize that language, even more than color, defines who you are to people.

His mother was a force to reckon with as she’s the one who inculcated the principles and values that he demonstrates. How he reasons, how he speaks, how he carries himself; you can see his mother written all over it and he doesn’t hesitate to show that side of her in his stories. I really admired her for being so headstrong and not giving in to any challenge that presented itself regardless of its magnitude – from racist remarks and treatment, to extreme relationship and marital challenges, to being the sole breadwinner and caregiver to her children. Even simply the harsh environments in which she had to raise a son who was different from his peers, on her own.  See her in all her glory,

Why teach a black child white things? Neighbors and relatives used to pester my mom. “Why do all this? Why show him the world when he’s never going to leave the ghetto?” “Because,” she would say, “even if he never leaves the ghetto, he will know that the ghetto is not the world. If that is all I accomplish, I’ve done enough.”

My mom told me these things so that I’d never take for granted how we got to where we were, but none of it ever came from a place of self-pity. “Learn from your past and be better because of your past,” she would say, “but don’t cry about your past. Life is full of pain. Let the pain sharpen you, but don’t hold on to it. Don’t be bitter.” And she never was. The deprivations of her youth, the betrayals of her parents, she never complained about any of it.

The smallest thing could prompt her. I’d walk through the house on the way to my room and say, “Hey, Mom” without glancing up. She’d say, “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.”

The fact that she was strong in her faith as well, because sometimes it’s what you believe in that gives you the impetus to exercise your full potential.

I had to read Psalms every day. She would quiz me on it. “What does the passage mean? What does it mean to you? How do you apply it to your life?” That was every day of my life. My mom did what school didn’t. She taught me how to think.

Food, or the access to food, was always the measure of how good or bad things were going in our lives. My mom would always say, “My job is to feed your body, feed your spirit, and feed your mind.” That’s exactly what she did, and the way she found money for food and books was to spend absolutely nothing on anything else.

I enjoyed reading every bit of this book. The authenticity of his stories and how he weaves through them and connects them is what makes it fascinating. The journey from his childhood, the struggles, the failures, the disappointments, the confusions and the wins, he brings them all out in Trevor Noah fashion. He’s the ultimate storyteller. Like this this one really cracked me up,

I’ll never forget the first time I went to a fancy restaurant as a grown man and someone told me, “You have to try the bone marrow. It’s such a delicacy. It’s divine.” They ordered it, the waiter brought it out, and I was like, “Dog bones, motherfucker!” I was not impressed.

As you go through each segment, you realize, the way he’s set it up, he puts you in a place where you feel like you now know him better. He gives life’s experiences meaning. That everything you go through makes you the person you are – not only the excesses, even the shortfalls. 

As modestly as we lived at home, I never felt poor because our lives were so rich with experience. 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.

They say that when you read a book, you can forget everything else you read, but there’s at the very least one thing you must get out of it. This was it for me, when he says,

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.

Please grab yourself a copy of the book, it’s worth the read. If you’re looking for a source of inspiration, this could very well be one.

Happy Easter to you and your loved ones. Remember the reason for the season ey!

Stay Inspired,