The host of The Daily Show reflects on his tumultuous South African childhood.
In a gritty memoir, Noah relates his harsh experiences growing up during the final years of apartheid and the chaotic and racially charged conflicts that would continue to undermine the newly won freedom that was established in its aftermath. His story unfolds through a series of loosely assembled essays that touch on his home life and school environment and later expand outward to various cities and neighborhoods and his encounters with petty crime and confrontations with domestic violence. Throughout, the author documents the evolving yet continually challenging race relations among blacks, whites, and “coloreds.” Noah was born the son of a white Swiss-German father and a devoutly Christian black Xhosa mother who purposely chose to have a child through a mixed relationship, with full understanding of the legal ramifications established under the Immorality Act of 1927, which banned illicit carnal relations between a native woman and a European male. Noah’s mother proved to be the dominant, remarkable force throughout his life, constantly striving to instill deep values of education, religion, and freedom as she struggled with her own desire for independence. “Perhaps even more amazing is the fact that my mother started her little project, me, at a time when she could not have known that apartheid would end,” writes the author. “There was no reason to think it would end; it had seen generations come and go. I was nearly six when Mandela was released, ten before democracy finally came, yet she was preparing me to live a life of freedom long before we knew freedom would exist.” On the whole, though studded with insight and provocative social criticism, Noah’s material doesn’t feel fully digested. As an accomplished adult humorist looking back to his childhood self, the attempt to inject a humorous tone into these grim proceedings frequently hits an awkward note.
A somewhat disjointed narrative with flashes of brilliant storytelling and acute observations on South African culture.