Book Review: Born A Crime by Trevor Noah

Book Review: Born A Crime by Trevor Noah

WHILE MOST CHILDREN TESTIFY TO THEIR PARENTS’ LOVE, I WAS PROOF OF THEIR CRIME.

Some time ago, we gave a list of books to read when idle during the lockdown, and Born a crime happened to be one of them, I took the liberty to read it and found it really interesting.

The book is a kind of hilarious and profound memoir of the protagonist’s South African childhood, from the years of apartheid to the fall of the system and the release of Nelson Mandela.

Trevor Noah tells anecdotes dotted with historical, political, and social references that educate readers and readers by framing the narrative in a specific context.

As a true insider, he explains a thousand wonders and the thousand contradictions of South Africa, guiding us by the hand to get to know the many tribes that make up the linguistic and cultural panorama of the country, so varied as to repeatedly refer to the comparison with the Tower of Babel. Trevor’s voice explains the strengths and weaknesses of a system based on the hatred that aims to divide its population into a thousand and more isolated categories, to then put them against each other. He explains how apartheid is taught incorrectly in schools, as if it were a sterile series of facts and events, without stimulating the critical thinking of male and female students. Without teaching them to think, judge, and above all criticize history; without teaching them to get angry.

Neither white nor black

The themes covered in the book are numerous, from Trevor’s South African identity to the relationship with his mother, to the absence of a real father figure, from the first love stories as a boy to hopes for a different future; however, the aspect that perhaps pervades the text, if not all of Trevor’s childhood, is the color of his skin. Trevor was born from a mother (black) of the South African tribe Xhosa and a father (white) of Swiss origin: born colored. It is neither black nor white, and this lack of sense of belonging to one of the two main categories of South Africa will greatly influence his growth, its formation, and its sense of identity.

When his mother chose to have a child with Trevor’s father, she did not stop to analyze in detail the advantages and disadvantages of such a counter-current decision, an illegal decision. Because the union of several ethnic groups, in a system based on institutionalized racism, reveals the flaws of the system and unmasks it in its illogicality.

IN ANY SOCIETY BUILT ON INSTITUTIONALIZED RACISM, RACIAL MIXING DOES NOT JUST CHALLENGE THE INJUSTICE OF THE SYSTEM, BUT HIGHLIGHTS ITS UNSUSTAINABILITY AND INCONSISTENCY. IT SHOWS THAT BREEDS CAN MIX … AND THAT IN MANY CASES THAT’S WHAT THEY WANT TO DO. THE FRUIT OF A MIXED RELATIONSHIP IS A CRY AGAINST THE LOGIC OF THE SYSTEM. THEREFORE INTERRACIAL RELATIONSHIPS BECOME A WORSE CRIME THAN TREASON.

Despite all this, Trevor describes to us the determination, stubbornness, and strength of his mother Patricia, who takes it into her head to want a son, not necessarily a husband or family: a son. A son to love unconditionally.

A son who, however, until the fall of apartheid, was forced to hide in the walls of the house and pretend it was not hers when they walked on the street, because it was not possible that a black woman had a son with lighter skin than his. Trevor tells of the “game” they played when they met someone: they stopped holding hands and pretended not to know each other. They pretended not to be each other’s blood.

Patricia

If we wanted to summarize Born a crime, we could say that it tells of how Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah, raised Trevor, giving him love, teachings (sometimes too much and sometimes not strict enough) and transmitting to him all the wisdom, cunny intelligence and hope that has in his heart. The presence of the mother is, to say the least, fundamental in every phase of our protagonist’s growth: given the absence of a real father figure for most of his childhood, Trevor and Patricia are often alone against the world. It is not at all difficult to understand how tackling the poverty and injustice of a racist and male chauvinist system can strengthen the already strong bond that exists between a mother and a child… The figure of the mother is constant throughout the narrative and, chapter after chapter, we only have at the end the complete picture of this woman as strong and independent as she is sweet. Her influence, teachings, and rebellious character continually inspire Trevor in his life choices, stimulating him to be a better person and to question the rules, where it is needed.

Having lived alongside anything but passive female characters (such as the mother, but also the grandmother and other family members) teaches Trevor the absurdity of patriarchy and violence against women, absurdity with which he will later be forced to do the maths closely.

A book to read

In short, the topics touched are many and are “great,” but what makes Born a crime special is the simplicity with which they are told to the public, through what is the voice of an adult who relives his childhood, and reflecting on the most significant episodes.

If you have not yet read Born a crime, the adventures of the young Trevor are waiting for you: from the time his beloved Fufi taught him a lesson on betrayals to when, after being framed by the cameras for stealing, he is cleared because in the filming his face is white.

Trevor is able to rework almost every story of his life and transform it into a great lesson for the future, passing easily from the eyes of a child to those of a young adult who has suffered a lot, but who has not thought of giving up. After each hit, physical and otherwise, Trevor becomes Trevor again.

Born a Crime tells the story of how the unconditional love of a mother illegally raised a brilliant son under apartheid, trying and succeeding, to break the cycle of poverty: their story can only be a wonderful source of inspiration.

Author: Amarachukwu Ogbonnaya

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