Back to top

Living the life of endless McDonald's

Cover of Born a Crime: Stories from
A review of Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

This is one of those books that I'm going to proclaim as universally beneficial. I can't imagine a person living on planet Earth who wouldn't be able to take away something from this book, starting with the shocking reality of the title Born a Crime. Trevor Noah, comedian, actor, and Jon Stewart's successor as host of The Daily Show was born in 1984 in South Africa to a black mother and a white father. His parent's interracial relationship was illegal under apartheid law, so therefore his birth was a crime. Trevor was also registered under apartheid legislation as "colored" which made him different from black or white in South Africa. He was treated differently, expectations for his behavior were different and he couldn't help but feel different from even his own family.

As a child, though, Trevor was different in other ways. By all accounts, he was an exceptionally precocious child. He uses the word "naughty" and I'm not going to disagree. We're talking playing with matches and burning down a house level of wild child. He also goes into great detail about his many youth entrepreneurial schemes. He refers to this as empowering the dispossessed and the disenfranchised in the wake of oppression through music piracy and a "tuck shop" delivery model for the kids at school who didn't want to stand in line. In other words, he set up a DJ business with hot AV equipment and a sketchy music library and was selling lunch snacks to his classmates at extortionist prices. He hides none of this. Then he grows up and attends law school. Much to discuss here!

Trevor also describes what it was like in racially divided and highly patriarchal Johannesburg during the eighties and nineties as well as his own impoverished, religiously motivated household. He spent a lot of time in church and getting to church as a child. Everything else centered on food and having enough food. American fast food is relatively new to South Africa and not as prevalent as in America (there are only 200 McDonald's in all of South Africa, and the first Burger King opened in 2013. According to Statistica, there were 13,905 McDonald's and 7,406 Burger Kings in the United States in 2018) so it's intriguing to learn about his view of McDonald's, believing it to be the most delicious food in the world, and wanting to be successful enough to eat McDonald's for every meal.

I've been intending to review this book for a while, now. It was published in 2016 and was named one of the best books of the year by the New York Times, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Esquire, Newsday and Booklist. I had the opportunity to see Trevor Noah perform live when he visited Madison during the polar vortex in February of this year. Some of the stories from his book made it into his act but it was mostly about his reaction to the freezing Wisconsin winter. This was plenty hilarious.

It was recently announced that Born a Crime is being turned into a movie and Lupita Nyong'o will portray Trevor's mother, Patricia. Patricia survived raising a child during apartheid, domestic abuse, and a number of other major catastrophes. She's the definition of resilient. There are photographs of Patricia in the book and she's absolutely gorgeous. Lupita Nyong'o has a similar strength and beauty and I believe her take on the role will be spot on. Just be sure to read the book first!

July 1, 2019