I'll be honest. If you think Donald Trump is an answer to prayer--lots of people do--then you'll hate Trevor Noah. No question. Noah's politics are decidedly left of middle-of-the-road, and, nightly, he skewers the PEOTUS as viciously as the PEOTUS skewers whomever fails to bow before his many thrones. (Most recently, the "highly-overrated" Meryl Streep).
Trevor Noah doesn't always use nice language, but then neither does Trump, so they're flush on that one. Lots of people I know would call him a smart ass--and he is. But it's his job, his work, his calling. Besides, he's doing something I didn't think any one could: replace hall-of-fame-r Jon Steward before an immense audience Stewart created.
Seriously. Imagine replacing the star of The Daily Show. Impossible.
And Noah is a kid, not even thirty, who's South African, born and reared half a world away from the U. S. of A's political swamps. Honestly, I wondered whether the show's producers had simply set the kid up for a fall so Jon Stewart would disappear more quickly and be replaced by someone with five stars.
Not so. Trevor Noah took over The Daily Show. And even though John Stewart can grab an audience and a headline whenever he wants to, today nobody watches the show for any reason other than tuning in to hear a smart-mouth, mixed race kid from South Africa.
I don't know that he has other books in him. The longer he succeeds with the crowd who love him, there'll be publishers galore who'll be more than happy to shop his words out to an adoring public and thank him with six or eight figures.
But what Trevor Noah has done with the memoir of his life is really something; and even if you hate him, even you think him a profane liberal Obama-ite--all of which he is--I think you'd like Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.
He was. Trevor Noah was "born a crime" under South African apartheid, a child of the determined effort of a mother so resolutely Christian as not to be believed. She determined she wanted a child, then chose a Swiss (white man) friend, and got herself pregnant. No marriage involved. Love?--I don't know, but they were friends, very good friends.
And of course all of that was illegal under apartheid, as their marriage would have been. But his mother's resolution didn't give a fig about the law, and thus was Trevor born, a kid who was a walking, talking crime, soon enough a multi-lingual smart ass.
The stories Trevor Noah tells treasure his mother, her indefatigable faith, her iron-clad reliance on prayer, her determined will to raise her boy to be the same kind of believer she is--three different churches every Sunday, weekly prayer meetings and youth church; the kid did it all.
But then his mother is neither sweet and kind or darlingly pious. Trevor Noah respects her; more than that, he loves her. But he doesn't pull a hand break on her problems, the major one of which is her subsequent marriage to a man who loves her but can't live with a woman more successful than he is. There's violence in his story, shocking violence. To say Trevor Noah was reared in a dysfunctional world would not be off base, but his mother's intense Christianity is never at fault. Born a Crime is not stand-up comedy; it's personal and heart-rending.
Trevor was forever an outcast--not black, not white, and always, wherever he went, recognizably "different." They were poor and penniless. In a particularly startling passage he remembers eating worms, describes the look and feel and texture so well his description almost makes you retch. There's nothing romantic about Trevor Noah's childhood.
Except his mother's never-failing Christian faith. I'm not making this up.
Read the book and you won't see the same kid on the nightly set where once upon a time Jon Stewart held forth, where a score of stars and comics got kick-started into careers that have only grown since they started out on their own.
The cover is just right, I think, because what looks like a comic book actually is not. It's a scene on a Soweto-like street made obvious by a South African woman who isn't a cartoon looking up at an ad on a nasty wall that's very much real. The cover is it's own work of art because what it suggests so poignantly is that what you'll find in the memoir is much more than what meets the eye.