I can’t remember what it was that made me think I’d enjoy this book. Perhaps I saw a clip of Trevor Noah’s stand-up, or saw him interviewed while promoting it? At any rate, I knew when I saw the synopsis of this book that it was something I would be really interested to read. I don’t know a whole lot about South Africa, and a book written from the perspective of a mixed South African was something I really wanted to know more about. It took me a couple of months from then to actually buy it, and get around to downloading it, but eventually I got there, and I’m really glad I did.
The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime New York Times bestseller about one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.
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.
I’ve led a very sheltered life. Growing up in a middle-class family, in a mostly white town in the suburbs of Dublin, the understanding I had, and indeed to some extent still have, was limited to my own perspective. As I’ve gotten older and realised the privileged life I’ve had, I’m actively seeking out more stories of and by marginalised voices, people with disabilities, neurodivergent authors, and authors of colour. Although I largely read fiction, I was really interested to read this story of a childhood as a mixed-race child growing up in the twilight of apartheid in South Africa. Trevor Noah’s frank, funny, and searing account of stories from his childhood is compelling and hilarious, and well worth the time it took.
I listened to the audiobook of this, which was read by the author himself. I think this added a lot to the joy of the book, as the stories were being delivered with the cadence, pacing, and emphasis that Noah himself wanted, and had written, not being interpreted by another. Humour ran through the book in droves, and interlaced each story.
Noah is an extremely funny man. His stand-up is massively entertaining, and this seeps through into his memoir. But what I didn’t expect was how emotionally compelling the book would be also. Stories of growing up with his mother’s family, of stepping away from the unconditional love they gave him, and of turning to his mother when he needed her all resonated with a depth of love which seeped through every word of this book, and resonated deeply with me.
Plus, I didn’t know much about apartheid and post-apartheid-era South Africa, and this book was really informative.
Like many memoirs, it’s a collection of anecdotes, rather than having a solid narrative arc, but that’s something you kind of expect in these circumstances, so it’s not a major difficulty.
Thoroughly recommended, especially the audiobook version.