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In writing this autobiography, Trevor Noah shares the stories from his formative years that highlight the main conflict of growing up under apartheid and how racist policies affected the lives of everyone in South Africa. As a young boy, Trevor masters several different languages. As a writer, Noah appeals to the reader with his wit and uses it to gradually introduce the problems plaguing South Africa and how they affected his life.
Even when Trevor, Noah’s younger self, lacks self-awareness in the moment, Noah’s sense of hindsight is incredibly keen, which makes him a reliable narrator. Because Noah did ultimately leave South Africa, his distance from things that he once considered normal allows him to share facets of his life that he knows would be inconceivable to others. These circumstances include extreme poverty, violence, racism, and an oppressive lack of freedom, and throughout the narrative Trevor experiences all of them in turn.
Noah gives perspective to the reader by providing historical context in the pages that precede each chapter. He details the events that led to apartheid, the means by which the government sowed division amongst its people, and the ways that these tactics continued to adversely affect society even after apartheid ended. This introduction to South African history makes it possible to comprehend the world in which Trevor’s family and friends live and the actions they take.
Noah sometimes uses these introductory pages to share a standalone anecdote that he does not attempt to tie into the larger chapter, or to make a general observation about life. In a single paragraph, on the page preceding Chapter 12, he shares that he regrets nothing he has ever done, but that he is consumed with regret for the things that he did not do. In setting this sentiment apart from the rest of the chapter, which details his relationship with Zaheera, he indicates the importance of regret in his life. He only repeats titles in the three chapters that detail his romantic misadventures, all of which end in failure.
By juxtaposing flashbacks to his childhood with commentary from his wiser, adult self, Noah essentially observes himself as the action rises. Noah often cringes at Trevor’s missteps and misunderstandings. He is usually kind in his depiction of Trevor and uses humor to set a warm tone and to shed light on his situation.
Noah uses the same kindness and humor in portraying his mother. It takes him a lifetime to learn all of the stories from the past that make Patricia the kind of person she is and to process the experiences for which he is present. He weaves those stories throughout the entire book instead of conveying all the aspects of Patricia’s character and his bond with her in a single chapter.
Noah also introduces Abel in a gradual way, story by story. He conveys early on that he will become Patricia’s husband, but only shares casual anecdotes at first. He is Patricia’s friend, a charming mechanic, someone whom Trevor mostly likes. When Patricia marries Abel, she could never have believed that he would turn out to be a self-loathing, violent abuser who tries to kill her, and neither would the reader. Noah places the climatic event of Abel’s shooting at the very end of the book to first share enough information to make this inconceivable outcome seem plausible.
While the final chapter is the chronological end of the book, Noah does not structure the bulk of his story in chronological order. At the beginning of the book, Trevor is nine years old. Noah flashes forward and backward throughout Parts I and II. He devotes chapters to different aspects of himself, such as being an outsider or a chameleon, and to specific characters, such as his mother and his father. In doing so, the reader comes to the same conclusions that Noah does, and at the same time. It has taken Noah a lifetime to process his own story, and he tempers all of the components of his story with humor to make the harsh realities more palatable and redemptive.