Review: Born A Crime

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Rating: 4.5 stars

I was very sceptical back when The Today Show replaced Jon Stewart with Trevor Noah, a comedian from South Africa, who very few had even heard of. He’s still nowhere near Jon Stewart, but over time I have come to appreciate Trevor Noah for his own unique brand of humor and wit.

For the past few years, I have not been a short story person, even less, a biography person. So a biography written in the form of short stories was something I had to think really about reading. As it happened, once I started, I flew through the pages. The memoir turned out to be a lesson in South African history that is hard to find in any history books.

“In America you had the forced removal of the native onto reservations coupled with slavery followed by segregation. Imagine all three of those things happening to the same group of people at the same time. That was apartheid.”

Born to a white father and a black mother, Trevor was illegal even before he was born. Forced to hide from public sight for the first few years of his life, he grew up alienated from other kids, hardly ever making any friends. That he chose to look back upon his life with humour and not bitterness, just shows how successful his mother was in bringing up a well-balanced human being under such adverse circumstances.

All through the book, the one thing that comes across loud and clear is Trevor’s love for his mother, and his acknowledgement of the sacrifices she made not only to have him, but to keep him as well. It is the story of a mother and a son, and their struggle to overcome all difficulties.

Despite all this, the book is not gloomy or depressing. It is in turns, funny, poignant, and heartbreaking, but not bleak. It makes you think, and it gives insight into the lives of a nation that is thought to be doing alright since the dark period of the apartheid ended. What everyone closes their eyes to, is the destruction apartheid left in its wake.

“People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, ” And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.”

It boggles the mind how a handful of people, outnumbered by the natives five to one, managed to rule over the country, simply by dividing them and making them fight each other. This is the history that I want to know about. There is a lot in this book that resonates with me as a Pakistani too. After all, we may not have had it as bad as South Africa, but our country is also a product of colonial rule. Oh, and our parents also believed in not sparing the rod!

There’s a very funny story about Trevor’s friend Hitler, and it’s also a lesson in perspective. My son read the blurb and asked about it, and as I told him, I realized how valuable a lesson it is for him to learn! The book is full of such instances where you stop and think . About racism, about division, about language barriers, and about opportunities.

What I really want to do now, is to get an audio book, because I have a feeling it will be better in Trevor’s own voice.

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