I have been a long-time fan of the work of Trevor Noah, the renown South African comedian hosting “The Daily Show“. With his unique style of comedy, especially when it comes to stand-up, he not only sets the bar with his late-night show, but als on Social Media. So it goes without saying that I was thrilled when his autobiographical comedy book was announced.

The genius of apartheid was convincing people who were the overwhelming majority to turn on each other. Apart hate, is what it was. You separate people into groups and make them hate one another so you can run them all.

Trevor Noah

In “Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood” he tells the striking story of growing up as a mixed child under apartheid in South Africa. As the first born of his South African mother and his Swiss father he truly was born a crime: under apartheid members of the white and black communities were prohibited from “illicit carnal intercourse”.

Apartheid was a system of institutionalised racial segregation that existed in South Africa from 1948 until the early 1990s. Apartheid was characterised by an authoritarian political culture based on baasskap (or white supremacy), which encouraged state repression of Black African, Coloured, and Asian South Africans for the benefit of the nation’s minority white population.

Wikipedia Article

In 287 humorous pages Trevor Noah introduces himself, his family and friends in a setting widely unknown, especially for white male Europeans such as myself. In great detail he covers the challenges of everyday life, showing the reader how apartheid cast him out as being different. It is hard to grasp how the upbringing under such conditions must be: constant fear of being cast out, arrested by police or harassed by other kids.

Throughout the book what stood out the most to me was the special bond between him and his mother. Don’t get me wrong, having received his fair share of “disciplinary” beatings, their relationship does – if anything – qualify as intense. The seemingly constant battle over control underlines their “Tom and Jerry relationship“, as he puts it himself. As humorous as this reads, statements such as the following must be formative to say the very least:

I chose to have your because I wanted something to love and something that would love me unconditionally in return – and then I gave birth to the most selfish piece of shit on earth and all it ever did was cry and eat and shit and say, ‘me, me, me, me me.’

Trevor Noah in Chapter 6, “Loopholes”

As cruel as this might seem, this was their modus operandi – a very open, harsh even, dialog between partners. Partners so close that the occasional chase in “turbo mode” might end up with you being tackled by strangers. With a rebellious, strong but loving mother like Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah it does not come as a surprise that Trevor Noah was able to successfully face this hostile environment of segregation and become the man, the successful entertainer and the insightful author he now is.

This book is a must-read not only because it shows the ins and outs of a comedic genius, but because it allows a glimpse into the narrow-minded world of racism, the stupidity of apartheid and celebrates the incredible strength of single mothers defying all obstacles laid out by law. Go out and buy it!