Tuesday, November 9, 2021 at 2 PM or 7 PM
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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.
Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.
The stories collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.
Born A Crime – book discussion questions.
1. The title of this memoir is Born a Crime. What is the meaning of “born a crime”? How would it feel for your very existence to be considered a crime? How does this concept impact Trevor’s life?
2. What did you know about apartheid before reading this book?
3. Did your concept of apartheid change after reading about it from his perspective?
4. Trevor says he “learned that the quickest way to bridge the race gap was through language.” Trevor shares a memory of coming across a group of “Zulu guys” who were talking about mugging him. They decided not to when they realized he could understand them and speak their language. Reflecting, Trevor says he understood “that language, even more than color, defines who you are to people”. What does he mean, and how is this idea reflected in this encounter? Do you use language differently in different situations? At school? At home? With friends?
5. Before reading the book, did you know who Trevor Noah was? If you knew him, did you expect the memoir to be different? If you didn’t know who he was before, are you surprised by what you now know about him?
6. Trevor’s name is both meaningless and meaningful. He explains: “The names Xhosa families give their children always have a meaning, and that meaning has a way of becoming self-fulfilling. . . . When it was time to pick my name, she chose Trevor, a name with no meaning whatsoever in South Africa, no precedent in the family. . . . My mother wanted her child beholden to no fate. She wanted me to be free to go anywhere, do anything, be anyone”. How are names tied to expectations? What do you know about your name? Who named you? Were you named after someone?