I first heard of the book Born A Crime from an interview that I picked a book called Born a Crime-stories from a South African childhood, due its catchy title. The writer explores complex topics such as racism, religion and family relations through a child’s eye while narrating the predicament of the main character in the setting of the book during the Apartheid regime in South Africa.
The book is written by Trevor Noah, currently the host of a satirical television show in the United States called, The Daily social distancing Show with Trevor Noah, is a well-known South African comedian who was born during a time when children born of mixed parents were a crime. This was the case due to the fact that, a mixed child proved that there was deeper interaction across races and negated the idea of white supremacy among races. This in itself was a crime, hence the title of the book. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a South African Xhosa woman. Now a renowned comedian, Trevor Noah tells an intriguing yet sad story of his life through a comedic lens.
A native of Johannesburg, Trevor Noah ascended to the world stage through his talent as a very informed comedian who has a unique perspective of the world, that he reveals using humor as a carrier of his deep thought process. As a writer, this is his first book although he has been part of other artistic and literary works like a being shadow character in the record-breaking movie Black Panther where his voice was used as the voice of the operating system of Wakanda.
As he dedicated the book saying, “For my mother my first fan, thank you for making me a man”.
Born a crime is a title inspired by the brutal realities of systemic racism that was practiced in South Africa under the Apartheid regime. Minorities who were white ruling the majority who were non-white, mostly black. This is the World that the writer of this book grew up in and was affected by it.
The heart of the book is exploring the relationship of the writer with his surrounding as they affect his view of the world and are being interpreted Patricia, a formidable black woman who had a very strong determination in life and who had religion as her safe refuge. Through this interpretation of life, the writer’s childhood was shaped.
As he was growing up, he learnt about tribalism among many other things, whereby there is an inherent division among local tribes in South Africa as well as prejudices that have been built over the years. The writer speaks about introduces different tribes in South Africa, main tribes being Zulus and Xhosas. He explains the perception of two major tribes, quote, “The Zulus are worriers while the Xhosa are said to be thinkers. The Zulu went to war with a white man, the Xhosa played chess with a white man”
Further, He introduces racism and violence in South Africa, black against black crime and the state that was being run by the minority, whites, brutally treating blacks as less than humans. “Race mixing became a crime worse than treason”.
Under apartheid there were further barriers introduced, Colored people, Indian people, black people were all segregated from one another and all of them segregated from white populations.
This was reflected in his life and the relationship that the writer has with his father. A Swiss father, white, whom he never could call him father. His father was more tolerant when it came to race.
In life we go through all kinds of challenges, after so much pain, we need to learn how to let go of the pain and move on to try other things in life. Being paralysed by a bad experience in life is the worst way of spending your life because no matter how careful we live our lives; we will never get out of it alive. Taking risks and trying new things is the best way to face life. As the writer put it, “After a while the bruises fade, and they fade for a reason”
The saying that it takes a village to raise a child is evident throughout this book as Trevor Noah learn different life lessons from his mother, his aunties, grandmother and sees the representation of the society and gaps therein through school.
Being a mixed child in the family as the writer refers to his identity being made of a result of a black mother and a white father; the writer was exposed to white and African culture as he found out that he was not fitting on either side. He learnt multiple languages in order to not be a stranger among his relatives in an extended family. Having lived among poor black neighborhoods, he learnt his mother’s tongue Xhosa, as well as Zulu language, also, he spoke Afrikaans which is a dialect of the Dutch language widely spoken among whites in South Africa.
Words from Patricia (Trevor’s mother) stood out for me, “Let the pain sharpen you, but don’t be bitter”. This simple statement carries so much meaning and describes the struggle of most African societies. The ability to forgive and move on or adapt to changes in life is very important.
This book reminds me of the book written by James Baldwin, The fire next time. It takes you deep into a commoner’s life. For instance, the writer talks about his love for a deaf and dumb dog named Fufi, a very interesting story of our ability to love. Further, the writer talks of loss and being heartbroken after the dog ran to the neighbor’s house. The story ends with the writer pointing out that “You do not own the thing that you love”
The book is to be adapted for a movie drama under the same title, with the Oscar-winner actress Lupita Nyong’o playing Patricia (Trevor Noah’s mother). This is a promising venture given the richness of information provided by the book and the understanding of the African culture by the leading actress who is Kenyan.