Stories from Trevor Noah‘s childhood during Apartheid in South Africa
I picked this up with little to no expectations. My siblings and I watch The Daily Show regularly so this was a way to learn more about the dimpled man who followed in Jon Stewart’s foot steps.
It’s hard to imagine Trevor Noah as anything other than the handsome, elegant, and confident man on TV. But there is so much more than meets the eye and this book made me respect the comedian with the childish jokes that sometimes don’t land so much more. Noah grew up wearing many hats: from a rambunctious devil child that no one could control to a teen with severe acne whose first date to a school dance was one he paid for through a deal with a friend. And that’s not even the half of it: Noah was a straight up hustler finding money making opportunities wherever he could from using his athletic build and speed to get lunch for kids at school who couldn’t run to the food trucks fast enough to beat the daily lunch lines to selling pirated CDs at a time where no one owned a CD writer to DJ’ing in the hood.
Part of what I find so compelling about Noah’s story is that no matter how much the odds were stacked against him, he never allows the reader to feel bad for him. There is no doubt that he objectively had a rough childhood and upbringing filled with seclusion, racism, poverty, violence, abuse, and exclusion. The extent of how deep these themes run in Noah’s life start with his birth — his parents had him at a time where interracial courtship and sexual relations were punishable by up to five years in prison. Regardless of the themes that were prevalent in his life, Noah does everything in his ability to keep a positive attitude and does the best he can with what he has.
Interspersed throughout the book along with stories of Noah’s childhood is a window into a dark and ugly time whose consequences are still felt by those that live in South Africa today. Not only is this book about Noah’s upbringing and homage to his independent, admirable, and downright badass mother but it’s a look into the institutionalized racism that existed in South Africa during Apartheid and the implications that still exist today. To highlight the ramifications felt today, a recent New York Times article announced that a “Government survey released in January found that black South Africans, who make up 80% of the population, earned only one-fifth of what whites did in 2015.”
With very limited knowledge of Apartheid (thanks Board of Ed), I found this book educational with insightful social commentary. Noah’s Dad echos my own sentiments about Apartheid: “‘Africa is full of black people,’ he would say. ‘So why would you come all the way to Africa if you hate black people? If you hate black people so much, why did you move into their house?’ To him it was insane.”
I’d recommend this book in a heartbeat — it’s raw, it’s funny, it’s inspirational, and above all else it’s informative on a system of oppression that existed during our lifetime. We live in tumultuous times. Let this book be an entry way into learning about the awful crimes authoritarian regimes take to control people.
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