Archive | 10:30 AM

Book Review: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

10 Jun

I’m a huge fan of Noah. I like him on The Daily Show and I watched a documentary about him that covered some of the same things in this book. I loved how resilient he is and how he shares the struggles he had as a child in a way that is informative and comedic. I was so excited to read this book for my book club.

Cover image via Goodreads

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Summary from Goodreads:

Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

The eighteen personal essays collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.

More than anything, I want to meet Trevor’s mother after reading this book. She’s almost as major a character as he is in his own memoir. Noah faced a lot growing up in South Africa, but his mother faced it for herself and for Trevor. Any problems he had, she dealt with as well. Any changes to try and help Trevor were hardships for Patricia. Their relationship was beautifully depicted and was a great way for Noah to say ‘thank you’ to his amazing mother.

I could so easily picture Trevor as the mischevious young boy he describes. He’s always trying to get just a little something more than he’s given, be it a book or a few extra rand. He was open about things in life that would have been difficult or embarrassing and I appreciated that honesty. When he talked about his mom and brother, it was clear it was hard for him at times. I appreciated how he told us about the hard times he endured. Apartheid is something American education doesn’t dwell on very much and I feel like I know a little bit more about it now.

I loved hearing about Trevor growing from a shy small boy to an out-going and ambitious teenager and 20-something. Nothing in between felt rushed and I could see how his childhood influenced him as a young adult and shaped him into who he is today. He tells stories similar to these on clips from his show and it’s very eye-opening to hear about political oppression from someone who now reports on it.

One of the most eye-opening things for me was how much I related to Trevor’s stories of high school romance but how different they were as well. Prom was a disaster for me my Junior year but nothing like Trevor’s and my date at least spoke the same language as me. I had a middle school heartbreak and Trevor’s story brought back memories. It was a very relatable childhood but the lense of apartheid and race made his stories give me pause and make me think about them more.

Trevor Noah
Image via the Comedy Central Press

I laughed the hardest when Noah talked about his friend, Hitler. What an unusual name. But, Noah explains why Hitler isn’t uncommon in South Africa and it seems a bit far-fetched, but I’ll believe it. Hitler performing at a Jewish school, though, is hilarious. I’m surprised it didn’t end more violently, to be honest. You’d think someone named Hitler would know about the man his name came from and understand why it might upset children.

Hearing about Trevor’s step-father was hard for me. His mother had been such a strong woman and great presence in his life and it made it hard for me to understand why such a bad man could be part of their lives. Trevor explains how it happened slowly and over time, but 20-20 makes it very clear that he was never going to help Trevor or Patricia.

Having Noah narrate the audiobook was an amazing idea. He talks about the power of languages in South Africa and how he was able to use mastery of languages to fit in with many different groups and communicate with people. Having him use those language skills to quote people in their own language and read passages in Xhosa, Zulu, and Afrikaans was wonderful. I don’t think anyone else reading it would have worked.

Since Noah is such a big name in America, I think it’s wonderful that he’s shared his childhood and how different it was from an American childhood. He talks a lot about American politics so understanding his background helps us understand why he feels the way he does. I loved the humor he used, but his message about assimilation and racism were very strong and impactful to me.

Writer’s Takeaway: Any writer wants to use some form of comedy to lighten the mood in certain parts of a book. Not many can make racism and apartheid funny. Noah has a great gift in this and really shines in this book. We all know he’s a funny guy but it’s different to see him laugh through the hard times.

I enjoyed the book a lot, especially the audiobook version. Four out of Five Stars

Until next time, write on.

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