Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Book Review: Born a Crime

Title: Born a Crime
Author: Trevor Noah
Enjoyment Rating: 5/5
Source: Audiobook from Audible

This book is not just another celebrity memoir. I did not know what to expect when I bought Trevor Noah's book. I knew he was from South Africa, that he is the current host of The Daily Show, and that I had enjoyed many clips from his show during the election, but that's about it. The book is billed as a "coming of age story during the twilight of apartheid in South Africa," and since in 2016 I read Nelson Mandela's autobiography A Long Walk to Freedom, my interest was piqued. Trevor's story is far more complicated and eye-opening than I ever would have imagined. Through Trevor's humor in the face of incredible hardship and his masterful storytelling, I will never think about apartheid, race, or crime the same way again.

Trevor was born to an unmarried black Xhosa mother and a white Swiss father in a time when the laws of apartheid made sexual relations between the races a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. Simply being a mixed race, or "colored" boy (a separate legal and cultural classification than white or black), he was evidence of his mother's crime. When he was a young boy staying at his grandmother's house, his cousins would go out to play all day, while he was forced to stay inside or risk being taken by the police. Even as apartheid fell and the laws began to change, Trevor struggled to navigate the codes of race in a country with eleven official languages and many social and political efforts to separate groups and prevent unity. English is his first language, but he speaks several other South African languages and found that shared language defines who you are to people more than color or any other characteristic. Talking the same language says "we are the same."

Trevor's mother is a fascinating woman who flouted social norms of race and gender, and yet still had to live in a country where her son was born a crime and where the police did not even pretend to care about wife battery and issues of domestic violence. Even when she was shot through the head by her ex-husband, the criminal justice system failed to give her attempted murderer even a slap on the wrist.

I wish I could retell here all of the stories in this book, but instead, I will just say, go read it. And if you have any recommendations of books written by women about apartheid, please share.  All I have read and watched so far about apartheid has been largely through a male perspective.

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