Published: November 15, 2016
“In any society built on institutionalized racism, race-mixing doesn’t merely challenge the system as unjust it reveals the system as unsustainable and incoherent. Race-mixing proves that races can mix – and in a lot of cases, want to mix. Because a mixed person embodies that rebuke to the logic of the system, race-mixing becomes a crime worse than treason.”
There is so much to love about this collection of essays by Trevor Noah about his life growing up in South Africa. He was born during the era of apartheid to a black mother and a Swiss-German father at a time when it was illegal for blacks and whites to mix. He had tremendous strength of character in a world in which he did not have a place. He did not feel like he truly belonged with the whites, the coloreds, or the blacks. Most other children born to parents of mixed races fled the country, so the parents did not have to hide their “crime.”
Trevor’s essays shed insight and understanding on and about South Africa’s diverse African cultural population (a country with 12 official languages), life under apartheid, and the aftermath of conditions once apartheid ended. They are full of humor, grit, love and incredible good fortune or luck.
Trevor was raised by his mother who was a very resourceful, independent, strong woman who devoted her life to religion and instilling strong morals into her son. She would whip him for misbehaving. They would have long dialogues over what was right and wrong, and when she felt that he could think up arguments faster than she, she agreed only to argue in writing. Letters back and forth would ensue, sometimes friendly and other times more aggressive. She very much shaped who he was, what he became, made him a strong thinker, a fast runner, and who he is today. Interestingly, he also helped to shape his mother. She parented his younger brother differently from how she parented Trevor, because of what he had taught her.
This book is so small, yet so expansive. It is full of wisdom, insight, depth, humility and love. To cover topics including apartheid, poverty, religion, domestic abuse, relationships, police corruption and do it all so well is an incredible feat. I highly recommend this book to everyone!
- Discuss the role of religion in Trevor’s family’s life. Why did he and his mother attend so many services and what did they get from each? How do Trevor and his mother view the importance of religion?
- How and why does Trevor’s mother change her parenting style with Trevor’s younger brother?
- How does witchcraft figure into South African society and belief systems?
- Trevor compares apartheid with Catholic school, both authoritarian and ruthless. In what ways is this true in the book?
- How does Patricia, Trevor’s mom, challenge Trevor to think for himself and stand up for himself?
- How is Trevor like a chameleon? Why does he do this?
- Discuss Trevor’s relationship with his father. Does Trevor feel good about it?
- How is Trevor’s step-father abusive? Why won’t the police take a report about it?
- Discuss the role of the police in South Africa and this book.
- What lessons in love does Trevor learn in this book?
- This book speaks a lot about Trevor’s relationship with his mother. How would you express the way Trevor feels about her?
- How does Trevor Noah’s background make his commentary on America so meaningful?
- Why do you think Trevor Noah has been so successful as a comedian, writer and on the Daily Show?