Review: Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

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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.


Born a Crime was an interesting read. Trevor Noah definitely had a much different childhood than I did (or anyone I know). I never thought much about South Africa and what it would have been like to grow up there when your very existence came about because your parents had an illegal relationship. It was really interesting. I enjoyed the tidbits about South Africa at the beginning of the chapters and the stories that related to them in his own personal life. He is definitely a gifted storyteller.

Now this book seems to be really like a tribute to his mom. I loved her. Seriously she seems like an amazing woman. She does what she wants and won't let anyone or anything stop her. Sure, there are some bad situations in there, but she is also realistic with her options. And Trevor's stories of growing up there were really interesting. He didn't really fit in anywhere as he wasn't black and he wasn't white, but he made his way. I would be interested in a follow up with stories from where this book ended to how he got to be the host of The Daily Show. Because that seems crazy to me. Like how did he get out of there? We shall see.

Now for as much as I enjoyed the stories in this book, it could have used a good editor. There are a lot of repetitive sections when someone is introduced or something happens and it is brought up again in another story it is treated like that is the first time we have heard of it. Which was mildly annoying to me. Not enough that it took away from the story, but an editor to pull those out and make it more cohesive would have been good. As it is it reads like a bunch of his acts put together in book form.

Overall this was a fun read. I learned some interesting things about South Africa and had fun reading about Trevor's antics growing up.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★


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