Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle. –-penguinrandomhouse.com
I have to keep reminding myself that this memoir is written by someone the same age as me. Born in 1984, Trevor Noah’s only a year older than me. I’ve never read a memoir written by contemporary before. I guess I’d better get used to it because now is the time when these things start happening. We’re all old enough now to have a few stories under our belt.
Hell, I’ve filled the Punnery with enough stories now that I’m beginning to revisit them, picking through them to see what I can elaborate on, turn into bigger and better things. Much like this memoir. Many of the stories in Born a Crime started off as jokes in Trevor’s stand-up act, like recounting the tail of feeling like “a bag of weed” whenever his parents walked past police because his father would cross the street and his mother would drop his hand.
Trevor and I were listening to Montel Jordan at the same time together. I, too, wanted to wear a ankle-length leather duster like Neo from The Matrix. We were both set free by the Internet. He sold bootleg CDs. I learned how to build websites so I could write whatever, where ever, I wanted.
While he was running through the streets of Johannesburg, I was living in Toronto with my family, completely unaware of what life might be like in post-apartheid South Africa. I knew it existed, but had no idea what it was.
In 1998, when I was about twelve years old, Nelson Mandela visited Toronto. My class went to the Skydome to hear him speak. I don’t remember a single thing about that trip, other than I know I was there.
I didn’t know what the hell apartheid really was as twelve year old sitting in the nosebleed section of the Skydome, watching a golf cart inch through the crowds on the astroturf below. Much like the end of Communism it was messy and confusing and it left a vaccuum in its wake that created chaos. That’s what Trevor Noah lived in, while I lived in Canada. While I was in Canada, watching Nelson Mandela speak on a Jumbotron, my family in Poland was dealing with the economic fall-out of post-Communist life in Poland.
I’ve already mentioned this part of the book:
“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.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing.”
I often wonder what would have happened if my family stayed in Poland. My father’s love of language likely would have still been passed on to me and my sister and my curiousity for the world would have likely led me to move to England, like thousands of other Poles my generation. Brexit would have a bigger impact in my life. Instead I am here in Canada. Would I have received the same fishing poles in that life? Impossible to tell because that life doesn’t exist. And as someone quite recently told me, our souls learn things in the time that they are given to us. We can’t speculate on what could have been done differently, because it’s all been done as it should have been done. And I value the fishing poles I’ve already been given in my life.
I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning about life in South Africa post-apartheid, in the nineties and early oughts.