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


“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 stories 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.”

-Synopsis from Goodreads


Cover of Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Cover image from Goodreads

I knew very little about Trevor Noah prior to reading this book, other than that he is a comedian from South Africa, and host of The Daily Show.

As I mentioned in my Instagram post last week, I chose to read this book for a few reason…

  • It has been recommended to me countless times over the past couple of years. People have raved about this book, whether it’s the audiobook or the print edition.
  • When I took a look at the new PopSugar Reading Challenge prompts for this year, one in particular caught my eye: read a book by an author who shares your zodiac sign. When I searched for a list of potential authors, Trevor Noah’s name came up (we are both Pisces!).
  • The other slightly less exciting reason that I chose this book is because I’m trying to read at least one non-fiction book per month this year.

With that in mind, I knew this would be a good read but I didn’t realize just how life changing it would be.

I admittedly knew little about South African history and was worried this might impact my reading of the book. As it turns out, a significant portion of the book is dedicated to the telling of South Africa’s history. Each chapter starts with a mini-history lesson about either South Africa, apartheid, or the transition period once it was abolished. This was so helpful because it provided me with additional context and insight to connect with Noah’s stories.

He writes with humor but the tone is as much thoughtful as it is analytical. I really got the sense that he had spent a lot of time reflecting on his life and all that has happened to him.

I think most readers may agree that this was hard to read at times. The racism that he experienced as being the only “colored” kid as he was referred to, or “mixed” kid in his neighborhood, the son of a white man and a black woman, was heartbreaking. He really struggled with his identity and sense of belonging from a very young age because, in South Africa, it impacted every aspect of his life.

One of the main themes throughout this book is Noah’s relationship and unbreakable bond with his mother. I really am in awe of all that she went through and the fact that she remained so full of life and faith through everything. She sounds like such an extraordinary person.

Here is just one of the countless quotes I bookmarked while reading…

“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited. Growing up in Soweto, our dream was to put another room on our house. Maybe have a driveway. Maybe, someday, a cast-iron gate at the end of the driveway. Because that is all we knew.

But the highest rung of what’s possible is far beyond the world you can see. My mother showed me what was possible. The thing that always amazed me about her life was that no one showed her. No one chose her. She did it on her own. She found her way through sheer force of will.”

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

I don’t think I can do a review of this book justice. What I can do is tell you that I highly, highly recommend this book, and I already think it’s going to be one of my favorite reads for this year.

For those who are interested in learning about other cultures, South African culture specifically, or for those looking for an unforgettable memoir, or those who just want to learn more about Trevor Noah’s life, you absolutely cannot go wrong with this book!

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