A few months ago I made a commitment to do better for Black Lives. My education and support continues, whether it be behind the scenes in silence, or openly and honestly with you all.
I’ll start by saying that this book superseded my expectations. I have been a an enthusiastic follower of Trevor Noah’s comedy for a couple of years now, along with his hosting of The Daily Show in the States and this book has really cemented my love for him and his story! I’ll start by giving a little background…
I was about 16 when I had the absolute privilege of visiting South Africa as part of an extra curriculum (and very expensive) activity, towards the end of my three-year stint at a ‘prestigious’ all-girls school. Unlike some of the other girls, I was hyper-aware that my parents were sacrificing a huge deal to provide me with this once-in-a-lifetime-experience. Being the eldest daughter from a family of hard-working immigrants, these big opportunities were never lost on me. A bit like my entire education in private schooling from 4 to 16 years old, I was aware – and constantly reminded by my parents – how lucky I was to be there. We visited schools, communities and museums in Johannesburg, areas of wildlife in completely rural areas, groups, schools and communities in the township of Soweto, along with some of the most deprived areas of Johannesburg city… The little kids and teenagers across all the different schools and orphanages were some of the most lovable I had ever met. I was completely in love with them, they, on the other hand, were totally fascinated by my hair.
I actually don’t have many photos to recall this time, and actually, when I think back now, there’s a lot that could have been done by the school to educate us beforehand and to alleviate a sense of white-saviourism that we’d un-knowingly taken with us. But what stayed with me was how South Africa made me feel. The people and their spirit, their cultures and 11 different official languages, the natural beauty of the landscapes, the animals, the sheer vastness of the country…a very long story short, since that short two-week trip, I fell in love with the place.
One of the things that horrified and fascinated me in equal measure more than anything else, was learning of South Africa’s abhorrent history of racism and its 40-something years of sufferance under apartheid. *For those of you who don’t know, apartheid – literally meaning ‘apartness’ in the language of Afrikaans – was a system of institutionalised segregation, enforcing laws and rules that encouraged complete disparity and separation between white and all other non-white citizens across South Africa. Racial groups lived and developed separately, consequently grossly unequally, and as Trevor once said ” they had the best racism in the world.” * History has always been a subject that has completely captured my interest, probably one of my most-watched genres on Netflix to be fair… I find it fascinating to learn of how people once lived, what they lived through and how drastically our world has/ hasn’t changed. It’s also shocking and inexcusable that the first I ever learnt of apartheid and South Africa’s history (which is a huge part of Black history as a whole) was while standing in a museum in Johannesburg at 16 years old. Not a single mention of it in the completely white-washed version of history taught to me throughout school life, which is absolute madness to me. My eyes were opened to a world I didn’t even know had previously existed, but luckily for me, I had been taught the order in which Henry VIII divorced and beheaded his six wives – colonial priorities eh…
The trip provided me with a small glimpse into South Africa’s devastating past and it created this connection between myself and the country. While I’m not Black, I have no ties to South Africa on a heritage-level and I couldn’t even begin to imagine the hardships of its peoples both then and now, there was something that connected me. South Africa is known for being made up of people of all races, religions, ethnicities and backgrounds – a real melting pot of sorts – hence the many colours represented in their flag, but also, a real place of hope. This, is something I could relate to. As a half Italian half Greek kid of immigrants, dual-nationality, dual-religion, brought up and living in the city of Brighton, I somehow felt at-home there.
All this contributed to creating this level of relatability I found with Trevor Noah. His comedy was the first of it’s kind in my opinion; educational, politically poignant, hilarious, relatable, but more than anything he came across as wildly well-educated on life and it’s dealings. I loved that. I heard that his book had been a roaring success and had been on the New York Times Bestselling list repeatedly for an eternity, but it was the uprising of BLM that really just acted as a huge kick in the a** for me, pushing me to educate myself further. I ordered a whole haul of books written by black authors, but this was the one I was most excited about, and decided to read first.
I’ll also say that I am an incredibly slow reader, always have been, coupled with the fact that I have the attention span of a small goldfish, which results in me rarely actually finishing a book. I read this from cover to cover and loved every story, every memory, every chapter. I feel like, while Trevor is very much recalling stories of his childhood, growing up under apartheid, he is also giving a stark education to the reader. This book has helped me fill in blanks, it’s given me background, it has provided me with a direct recalling of this period of history, through the eyes of a young mixed-race boy living in segregated South Africa.
I like the way the book flows, it’s not chronological to Trevor’s age/ life events but instead is done in a sequence of un-related stories, as chapters. Although each chapter is not necessarily connected with the chronology of time, it flows in a way a story book would. You get a real sense of Trevor’s character, his inner maverick; from his antics and debates with his mother as a young child to his days of selling pirated CD’s and stolen goods to make a living, as a teenager in the ‘hood’ of Alexandra. I have also completely internalised his voice from watching so much of his comedy, so I pretty much read the entire book as it would sound, read from his mouth. Can you tell I’ve watched and re-watched his comedy just a few times…
It is beautifully written, engaging, interesting, informative and an easy read for just about anyone. It is literally as though Trevor has painted a colourful story book to flick through, simply with words and stories. This book doesn’t focus on Trevor’s success, but acts more-so as an ode of gratitude to his mother, Patricia. I love that so much of this book is dedicated to her. She is, in fact, the common thread throughout all the stories and chapters. How she raised him as a single mother, the influence she has had on him, the expectation of women, especially black women, in South Africa at that time, her absolute resilience in the face of adversity, apartheid, domestic abuse and hardship. Patricia really comes out as the ultimate superhero in this, and I really, really love that.
Un-expectedly, a book in essence about female empowerment, with absolute focus on the integral role of a woman and mother, written by a son, with apartheid South Africa and racial oppression, as its backdrop. Although it was published in 2016, this book has no sense of expiry. It’s a book I’d encourage any 12 year old to read, just as much as I’d recommend it to my mother. It’s timeless in it’s intention and timeless in it’s impact. Stemming from this read, I’ve really been compelled to learn more about South African history, black history, the impact of apartheid and so much more.
There are two comedy shows by Trevor on Netflix: Son Of Patricia and Afraid Of The Dark. I’d highly recommend watching both, alongside or before reading Born A Crime. I purchased my copy of the book from Waterstones, but obviously you can support your favourite book store.
Let me know what you thought of my very first book review on the page, and if you’d like to see more of them!