Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of 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’m sure that at this point, most of you have heard of Trevor Noah. He’s the South African comedian who took over the Daily Show a few years ago. Did you know that he wrote a book about his childhood?
You guys, it was so fantastic. If you’ve seen his show, you know that Noah is incredibly charming and genuinely funny. These traits translated so well into this collection of stories that I found it difficult to put down.
It’s obviously a biographical book, but it’s formatted more like a collection of short stories. They are all about Trevor growing up, but they are not in chronological order. He jumps throughout time in a way that creates a natural flow, but it doesn’t feel like an information dump. I tend to get bored when reading biographies because there are always dull moments. With this format – a collection of stories – it feels like a friend is telling you about the most memorable moments of his life. There are no dull spots. The stories are entertaining and told with such charm that it’s easy to get caught up in them. He explains and describes things in such a way that it makes it instantly relatable. Even if you haven’t gone through similar experiences, he makes it so that you can really understand the why of things.
Honestly, if you read one book this year, this should be it. It’s enlightening, charming and downright entertaining. Sometimes it’s hilarious, sometimes it’s heartbreaking, but it’s real in a way that’s truly rare. Noah is a natural storyteller and this book just shines.