Monday 4 March 2019

#CBR11 Book 6: "Born a Crime: Stories of a South African Childhood" by Trevor Noah

Page count: 304 pages
Audio book length: 8 hrs 44 mins
Rating: 4 stars

In this very engaging autobiography, Trevor Noah opens up about growing up in South Africa, born from a black Xhosa mother and a white Swiss father at a time when this was literally a crime punishable with several years in prison. The Apartheid regime ended while Noah was still young, but his childhood was still deeply affected by the fact that he was a mixed race child in a society where the races were not supposed to mix at all, to the point where his mother had to walk behind her own child and a mixed race woman when they were out in public, so no one would guess at their family relationships.

Noah's parents obviously were never married (as this was completely out of the question), but he has several stories of his mother's eventual marriage to his alcoholic, violent stepfather, and the dramatic and truly astounding consequences this eventually had for his family. One of the impressions I came away with is just what a formidable lady Noah's mother was (and probably still is), and what an unusual upbringing he had as a result of his mixed race parentage. As well as sharing a lot of childhood recollections that could have been merely depressing and sad if recounted in a different, less humorous light, Noah gives his reader/listener a lot of interesting facts about the colonisation of South Africa, the Apartheid period and huge changes the country went through once the racist system of segregation was dissolved.

I didn't really have a lot of prior knowledge or experience with Trevor Noah, having not really watched The Daily Show much after he took over after Jon Stewart. I'd seen him in a lot of clips on the internet, naturally, but got this audio book mainly because of several glowing recommendations from various people I know on the internet. I didn't really know what to expect, but have enjoyed a lot of celebrity autobiographies in the past without a lot of foreknowledge of the people in question, and figured this would fall in the same category. I did not really expect for the book to be as educational as it turned out to be. Noah is five years younger than I, which means that all the things he talks about happened within my lifetime. Reading is so incredibly important to help us learn about different places and times and to learn to empathise with people who have different experiences from our own. Noah's childhood stories took place within my lifetime, but on the other side of the world, and it's amazing what a difference that can make.

I'm so glad I used one of my Audible credits on this book. I can recommend it highly, even if you don't think that the life story of a sometimes glib talk show host is something that might interest you.

Judging a book by its cover: Making the cover look like a wall mural on the wall in South Africa is a nice touch. I like the cracked concrete wall and the rather informal pose of Noah's portrait, as well as the African woman in the foreground, looking directly at his face.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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