Audiobook Review: Born a Crime 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.
If you’re an American, you probably know Trevor Noah as the guy who replaced Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. Unless you’ve already read this book, I’m guessing you don’t know about his childhood growing up in South Africa.
Noah was born to a black mother and a white father. In South Africa, a person of mixed race is called colored. Under apartheid, it was illegal for a black person to have sex with a white person. Having a colored child was concrete evidence that this had occurred. Thus, Trevor was “born a crime.”
Born a Crime is not a chronological time line of Noah’s childhood. Rather, it’s organized of snippets related by themes such as going out in public with his white father, church with his ultra-Christian mother, school life and so-on.
I was constantly amazed at the events Noah recounted from his childhood – the extreme poverty, his abusive step-father, life during apartheid. Through all of this, his mother remained a steadfast source of unconditional love and support – the kind of mother who would literally take a bullet for her child.
Noah’s memoir ends when his childhood ends and young adulthood begins. He briefly mentions that his traveling the world performing as a comedian but only because it was essential to understanding a story about him and his mother. He makes no mention of any details about why he chose comedy, how he got his start, nothing. Don’t go into this expecting to get any scoop on his career. But here’s the thing: Even if Trevor Noah wasn’t famous, his memoir would still be extremely compelling as a glimpse into growing up as a colored person in South Africa. It’s a miracle that he turned out to be as successful as he is with everything he went through growing up. I was thinking about him for days after I finished this book.
I listened to the audio version of this book which made me feel like I was having a conversation (albeit one sided) with him. I love his accent and the accents he did of all the people in his life. Hearing him speak in his mother’s accent was delightful. I also liked knowing the correct pronunciation of all of the unfamiliar African words.
Born a Crime is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read and I predict it will have a high spot on my best of picks for the year. I highly recommend it to all.