Title: Born A Crime
Author: Trevor Noah
Publication Date: November 15, 2016
Genre: Non-Fiction | Memoir
My Rating: 5/5 stars
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.
When I first saw this book in bookstores, I wasn’t interested in it because I don’t read a lot of memoirs, and the ones I do read are typically by women of color. Somehow, I became really interested and curious about this book in November 2017, so I placed a library hold on Overdrive. I’m extremely happy I gave Born A Crime a chance because I ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT! I was so surprised and blown away by it that I ended up buying my own copy and I’ve recommended it to almost everyone.
Born A Crime is captivating and perfectly balances storytelling with discussions about sociopolitical issues. Trevor Noah was born to a black Xhosa mother and white Swiss father during a time where it was illegal for blacks and whites to be romantically involved. His birth was a criminal act punishable by law. To keep him safe, his family kept him mostly indoors and he had minimal contact with his father during his early years because of apartheid laws.
The stories Noah shared in this book from his childhood and adolescent years are compelling, funny, and, more importantly, eye-opening. In no particular order, Noah shares stories about his mother not being able to hold his hand at the park, childhood crushes, family, domestic violence, and hustling to make ends meet. He talks about racism, colonialism, sexism, religion, gender role socialization, education, and personal experiences as an outsider.
From the moment I picked up this book, I could not stop laughing or crying. Noah shares these stories in a way that draws you into each tale and makes you feel physically present with him. His descriptions of South African townships and cities, his friends, and family makes this book come alive in a rich and vivid way. While the stories are funny, they are intensely personal and there were moments when I felt crushed, angry, and horrified by his experiences and the atrocities against Africans. I enjoyed his honesty and I loved that he didn’t shy away from talking about his flaws, his mischievous behaviors, and some of the ways he benefited from a lighter skin complexion.
Trevor Noah set out to share his experiences with the world and in that process he shared his fearless heroic mother, Patricia Noah, with us. Noah’s mother is the definition of a fearless and relentless black mother raising a black son in an oppressive system. His mother wasn’t perfect and the relationship between them isn’t either, but she went to great lengths to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, abuse, and the “black tax.”
Despite their circumstances, she did her best to create a life that nurtured his body, mind, and spirit. She played the system the best she could to get him into the best schools and neighborhoods, she took him to parks, bought him books, taught him English, and showed him a world beyond their current circumstance. While her methods may seem unconventional and her approaches weren’t always the best, I understood the decisions she made.At it’s core, Born A Crime is story about family and identity. The stories are not told in chronological order and I think that’s what makes them more interesting because it feels like you’re talking to a friend. Because of the way he shared these stories, it was easy to identify with some of his childhood experiences as a black person and also as someone raised by religious grandmother.
This book was the longest library hold I ever had to wait for and it was definitely worth it because it’s one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read.
If you’re in the mood for the perfect blend of humor, personal stories that cover important topics, you’ll enjoy this.
Have your read this book? If so, what are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading!