Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Posted November 3, 2016 by Taryn in Reviews / 0 Comments

I received this book for free from NetGalley, Spiegel & Grau in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Born a Crime by Trevor NoahBorn a Crime by Trevor Noah
Published by Random House Publishing Group on November 15th 2016
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs, Performing Arts, Comedy, Humor, Form, Essays
Pages: 304
Format: Electronic ARC
Source: NetGalley, Spiegel & Grau
Buy on Amazon

Trevor Noah is a South African comedian who currently hosts The Daily Show on Comedy Central. Born a Crime is about growing up in South Africa: living under apartheid when his existence was evidence of a crime, life after apartheid, the deep bond between a mother and son, the unique challenges of growing up mixed race, and living with an abusive stepfather. It’s filled with humor and biting social commentary, but the main words that describe this book are insightful and heartfelt. I was already a casual fan, but this book can be read by anyone since his career is barely mentioned.

People are willing to accept you if they see you as an outsider trying to assimilate into their world. But when they see you as a fellow tribe member attempting to disavow the tribe, that is something they will never forgive.

Born a Crime is a collection of stories from Trevor’s life with a generally linear timeline. There was a tiny bit of jumpiness– occasionally there would be something mentioned that would be elaborated on in another story. Overall, I really liked the format because there was no filler. Each chapter worked on its own and had a clear lesson, so I viewed them each individually. Trevor was always getting into trouble growing up and some of the chapters are about his antics. While these stories are hilarious on their own, he also places these anecdotes within a wider social context.

I’ve read a few books by South African authors this year and I wish I would’ve read this one first! Of all I’ve read and seen on the topic, this is the one that made the history ‘click’ the most. Each chapter is preceded by either historical or personal context. He also puts everything in perspective for outsiders: “In America you had the forced removal of the native onto reservations coupled with slavery followed by segregation. Imagine all three of those things happening to the same group of people at the same time. That was apartheid.” It’s a good reminder of the similarities between cultures and institutions, even though the specifics may vary.

Love is a creative act. When you love someone you create a new world for them. My mother did that for me, and with the progress I made and the things I learned, I came back and created a new world and a new understanding for her.

Trevor was born to a black mother and a white father during a time when sexual relations between the two were strictly forbidden by law. He couldn’t even walk beside his parents in public. It was interesting to read how he interpreted these events as a child. He describes the complicated rules enacted to keep an illogical system functioning and trying to find his place in a world with such defined boundaries.

His close relationship with his mother was one of my favorite parts of the book. He describes his mother as a rebel and I loved reading about how she subverted the system! She raised Trevor to know that there was no limit to what he could accomplish: “Even if he never leaves the ghetto, he will know that the ghetto is not the world. If that is all I accomplish, I’ve done enough.” He reveals the wisdom she imparted that made him the man he is today. Like his mom, he has a remarkable ability to adapt. I could also see where he gets his sense of humor! Even in one of the most tragic moments of the story, she’s able to joke around. Though his father isn’t in the book as much, the chapter about him and the gift of being chosen is one of the chapters that hit me the hardest.

We live in a world where we don’t see the ramifications of what we do to others, because we don’t live with them. If we could see one another’s pain and empathize with one another, it would never be worth it to us to commit the crimes in the first place.

Born a Crime is an insightful memoir that strikes the perfect balance of historical and personal. I learned a lot and it gave me a better context for what I already knew. It made me laugh and cry. I know I love a book when I’m giving everyone around me daily updates! If you are interested in the subjects addressed in this book, you might be interested in the short article Inner City by Lauren Beukes. Her short story collection Slipping is coming out in November, which features some stories about South African culture.

People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.”


Leave a Reply