Book Commentary: Born a Crime

Born a Crime is the autobiography of Trevor Noah, the South African comedian and host of the The Daily Show. The book starts with the birth story of Trevor through a black South African mother and white Swiss father, which was literally a crime under apartheid. Race division in South Africa was so prominent that the father couldn’t openly play with his own child and the mother had to pretend to be a maid.

It’s a great view of the sense of humour of Trevor, where he moves between humour and deep insights and humour that is several layers deep masking underlying misfortunes.

A deeply personal and harrowing account of growing up as a ‘colored’ kid in South Africa, Trevor is an outsider throughout his life, never quite fitting in with any specific group and yet not an outcast. He’s a chameleon, who can become friends with all sorts of people, even those wanting to mug him.

He clearly gets his sense of humour from his mom, Patricia. When she gets shot and she says to Trevor, “Look at the brighter side. You’re officially the best looking person in the family.” or when they get kidnapped by an aggressive bus driver and Patricia, Trevor and his younger half-brother Andrew who’s not even a toddler have to jump off a moving bus. “She broke out in a huge smile and started laughing. I started laughing, too, and we stood there, this little boy and his mom, our arms and legs covered in blood and dirt, laughing together through the pain in the light of a petrol station on the side of the road in the middle of the night.”

The book poignantly describes on part about conflicted living in an abusive home, on how you cannot truly hate or love the ones you’re living with. In Trevor’s words:

“It was sporadic enough to where you’d think it wouldn’t happen again, but it was frequent enough that you never forgot it was possible. There was a rhythm to it. I remember one time, after one terrible incident, nobody spoke to him for over a month. No words, no eye contact, no conversations, nothing. We moved through the house as strangers, at different times. Complete silent treatment. Then one morning you’re in the kitchen and there’s a nod. “Hey.” “Hey.” Then a week later it’s “Did you see the thing on the news?” “Yeah.” Then the next week there’s a joke and a laugh. Slowly, slowly, life goes back to how it was. Six months, a year later, you do it all again.”

Besides Trevor’s adventures, what truly stands out for me in the book is his mother Patricia and her fortitude. She never blamed her current situation on her past, in fact she’s truly a Giver as Trevor describes her, pulling up herself, her family, even her abusive husband from the trenches. Her courage, resilience and sheer willpower to rise above all her life’s misfortunes and pouring all of that into her children makes her the hero of the book, way beyond Trevor himself. She knew how to we should be raising sons, she taught them how to respect women, about sex, about grown up relationships and how to be a man.

Building in stealth mode, ex @Google engineer and Product Manager for Kubernetes