SHUBHDA CHAUDHARY | 25 OCTOBER, 2017
As South Africa’s Trevor Noah, the famous rib-tickling host of the ‘The Daily Show’ shot into the limelight with his curious, inventive and thought-provoking comedy show, the world was yet to delve into his story. Well, from being born in Johannesburg under apartheid to becoming a celebrity of political commentary-cum-comedy in United States, it was definitely a daunting journey. But as his book ‘Born a Crime’ got released, his internal battles, sacrifices and political complexities became too apparent, and perhaps with time, it would be respected as well.
To start with, understanding a colonized mind, its political debacles, especially the one growing through the victimhood of apartheid in South Africa is very difficult. As Frantz Fanon rightly said ‘After the colonial rulers went away, the victims still seeing their reflection in each other eventually became their own enemies.’ Perhaps, this sums up the childhood of Trevor, who was born a crime, as in born from an African mother and a ‘Swiss-German’ dad. Due to apartheid, Trevor never had a ‘normal’ childhood. In fact he never remembers seeing his parents together, because if they did, they would have been instantly arrested.
He still recounts how his identity, often scrutinized by the color of his skin, made him an outsider, not African enough to belong to South Africa, not fair-skinned enough to be a White. There was no idea of entitlement he had, instead his ferocious spirit knew that everything was a fight, an abusive fight to gain recognition. Dedicating the book to his mother, Trevor often says that she had been the sole force behind his lessons in life, be it religious, political or simply the tactics to be street-smart.
The book reveals how right from an early age, Trevor witnessed various forms of domination like patriarchy, domestic abuse, criminal activity, bombings, ruthless subjugation, enormous judgmental narcissism and personal violence. Being ferociously hyperactive from childhood gave Trevor the power to invent a different world for himself, where he was allowed to be anyone away from the sickening grief of reality, to play with his mind, invent his own rules and create his own imaginary destiny. He learnt the tribal African languages in his quest to belong, to be an insider and it often helped him, but as his life progressed and he fine-tuned himself with English, he still ponders where the alienation actually started. After all, as he states, English is just the language of money, isn’t it?
Written in a flowing language with intermittent thought provoking insights into the mind of a child who was lost in his own country under apartheid, it’s a very heart-touching portrayal of a man who did not give up, treaded carefully with humor to create his own political space in United States, tackling racism at its very core. All that he went through, the agony of victimhood created in him a person who was able to question, critique and endow his own reasoning, often well-balanced to question the norms. Most importantly, the humble prism through which he looks at himself, endows justice to every act of his life is quite inspiring even for those with little knowledge of international politics, apartheid or political subjugation.
It’s quite interesting how the book turns funny, sad and quite thoughtful as you read on. For example, Trevor talks about how a child needs to learn the right methodology to show love, a trait that does not come easily when you have grown alienated in your own home without any emotional obligation. But his time of learning it was quite tragic, especially when he saw his mother’s head hit by a bullet from his drunk step-father and the hospitals in Johannesburg declined to take her in without a health insurance.
As he kept growing, Trevor’s mother talked to him as an adult, not a kid. And every Sunday when he was literally pushed and elbowed to pray at the Church, she taught him how to think, how to learn from even the worst people and imbibe their strengths in his life. He still proudly says ‘I was just high-energy kid and knew what I wanted to do.’ This statement comes across quite strongly even today when Trevor tackles the subject of Donald Trump and rapidly growing racism in America, without any shred of doubt. Today, he knows he has an immigrant identity but his language, the way he connects with another human and reveals his philosophy of life immediately projects his aura, his personality and the magic that it carries.
The book also recounts his own personal journey with guilt, affliction, heart-breaks, infatuations and loss but his child-like fervor and adventurous spirit pulls his out every time with panache. His act of storytelling and comedy, at times brutal but very, very precise is an enticing phenomenon to watch. When Trevor was asked by Stephen Colbert, a world-famous American comedian on how he managed to produce this act, his comedy through the tough times in America, Trevor had simply smiled and said ‘Because I stay alone.’ This statement can be witnessed throughout his book, as to how Trevor right from childhood lived inside his head, his own reality, away from others, which thereby revealed the philosophy he stood for, the idea of self preservation.
In short, the book is full of humor and often times, tear-jerking narratives which at times would amaze the reader with the humanity, justice and ideals found in Trevor’s mind, the principles that he would fought for his survival. The backdrop of South Africa and the little stories from apartheid time are definitely eye-opening narratives.
In a nutshell, this book after read becomes a memory, perhaps like one’s own story if you belong from the colonized world and how very difficult it is to retain an idea of the world through this lens. Perhaps, the book never ends in a reader’s mind; it keeps cropping up time and again because it becomes one’s own story, one’s own prism, one’s own ideal.
Book Name: Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood
Author: Trevor Noah
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group