Book sheds light on African vs. African-American experience

Christopher Walker, Editor - in - Chief

Those familiar with Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” need no introduction to the program’s current host, South African-born Trevor Noah. Replacing John Stewart in 2015, Noah instantly cemented himself as one of comedy’s rising stars overnight.

His recent book, “Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood,” is a lighthearted, funny and surprisingly thrilling memoir chronicling his highly unusual upbringing in his home country. While most of Noah’s fans are aware of his heritage, few would guess the extent to which his unusual upbringing deviated from the average American childhood.  

Noah comes across as funny, personable, genuine and intelligent hosting “The Daily Show,” and this personality translates easily to the prose in his book.

Noah paints a beautiful picture with dim colors: legal racial discrimination, an abusive stepfather and an extremely religious and strict mother are major, defining aspects of his childhood. Noah’s formative years could have easily lead to the life of a common criminal; it seemed almost destined.

Noah not only grew up in a third-world section of South Africa, where he and his mother were dirt poor, but he grew up under apartheid, which was the official South African policy of racial segregation. Noah is of mixed race, illegal under apartheid rule, and almost never got to see his white father.

His mother often had to hide Noah in her home during the day because of his racially-mixed existence under apartheid rule; hence the title “Born a Crime.”

Trevor tells anecdotes about stealing food, pirating CDs, becoming a locally successfully DJ, falling in love, burning a house down and getting his heart broken among other things.

Primarily, though, “Born a Crime” concerns Noah’s relationship with his mother, a stern and highly devout woman. Noah clearly believes he owes his mother everything; he insists her strict upbringing is what let him become the man he is today.

Despite the tales of extreme poverty, not once does Trevor ever come across as anything but grateful for his bizarre upbringing, and it is clear he believes he owes his religious mother a huge debt of gratitude. Noah’s clear love for his mother permeates the entire work, and his optimistic view of his childhood is inspiring.  

The novel does not chronicle Noah’s eventual rise to international fame; none of what happened in his life could be written off as a consequence of success. His childhood, insane compared to most Americans, is one thousands of children share.

Noah’s unflinching optimism in the face of extraordinary circumstances makes this book worth reading alone. Fortunately, there are many other reasons to read the book.

Like Amy Schumer’s “The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo,” if you have the chance, listen to the author-narrated audiobook. To have Noah’s expressive and clear voice emphasizing subtleties often missed or left open to interpretation is a unique and extremely entertaining  experience.