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Book review: Daily Show host offers poignant memoir

enna Meier Bilbo/For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Book review
Courtesy Photo

“Born A Crime,” by Trevor Noah

I began listening to the audio book “Born A Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood” after a recommendation from a coworker. Trevor Noah is best known as the host of The Daily Show, but he has been a comedian for years. Listening to him read his memoir about growing up in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa, a world so different from America, is both hilarious and poignant.

Noah brings a very distinct perspective to The Daily Show because of his South African upbringing. Raised by a single mother who sounds both hugely remarkable and mildly terrifying, Noah recounts being hidden from the world in his own home, since a mixed-race child in apartheid South Africa could have been relocated and both parents arrested.

Noah spent his childhood growing up in black, white and colored neighborhoods, experiences that shaped how he views the world and his understanding of how differently the world treats people with different skin colors.

Noah’s stories range from his first crush to being pushed out of a car. I particularly loved his recollections about how he ran businesses and made money as a child and a young man. As a child, he used his ability to run fast to take lunch orders from his peers and earn a cut.

Later, he pirated CDs and created mix tapes to sell to neighbors and local drivers for a profit. He and his friends would DJ events, usually to booming turnout. Eventually, he began performing comedy … and the rest is history.

Noah also speaks candidly about race and class relations. My favorite point he makes about opportunity is this: If you give a man a fish, he will eat for a day; if you teach a man to fish, he’ll eat forever, but you’d better give him a rod. Talent and opportunity are not the same thing.

Noah credits a friend named Andrew for giving him a CD writer, which enabled him to start his CD business. Noah always had a natural talent with computers and sales, but this raw talent would have gotten him nowhere had Andrew not given him the tools to develop his talent.

Noah uses his own life story to teach his readers a valuable lesson: Telling people who have been severely without to just pull themselves up by their bootstraps is a flawed idea. Opportunities are only as good as the materials we have to work with to develop the opportunity.

“Born a Crime” is an interesting insight into the life of one of the fastest growing names in television and also into a period of history that is simultaneously widely acknowledged, yet poorly understood.

Noah manages to educate about South African apartheid and post-apartheid culture, while deepening and developing his televised opinions. Plus, listening to him read his own words is simply the cherry on top.

This book is available at Bud Werner Memorial Library and Off the Beaten Path.

Jenna Meier Bilbo is a bookseller at Off the Beaten Path.


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