Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
Published by Doubleday Canada on November 15th, 2016
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction
“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.”
Note: Please check the links at the end of the review in response to what’s going on in the world right now. Remember to educate yourself, and listen and uplift Black voices.
I’ve seen Trevor Noah on The Daily Show, I’ve watched his interviews on YouTube, and I’ve seen his comedy specials on Netflix. So I really have no excuse for why it took me so long to read his memoir!
Noah’s memoir outlines his unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show, which began with a criminal act: his birth. He was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother. At the time, such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Noah 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.
Celebrity memoirs are often a hit or miss for me. For the most part, you can’t go wrong when it’s a comedian’s memoir. I mean, you can rely on the jokes hitting.
But the problem I end up having with celebrity memoirs is that they often ring hollow. Okay sure, at one point they were bullied during their childhood. That doesn’t exactly make them relatable as they’ve gone onto be rich, famous, and good-looking.
As much as I love reading about celebrity gossip and the juicy behind-the-scenes stories about what it’s like in Hollywood, I really liked Noah’s choice to focus on his unique upbringing.
Noah’s stories about growing up are absolutely hilarious. Everything from his inner monologue to his conversations with his school friends and his mother are comedy gold. I didn’t expect to finish the book and want to learn more about his mom, Patricia.
And interspersed between stories, Noah inserts history tidbits about apartheid. And it wasn’t what you’d find in a text book. It was an honest representation of what it was like to grow up in South Africa under the later years of apartheid, and after its collapse. I’m ashamed to say that I learned more about apartheid in a celebrity memoir than I ever did in school. I’ll definitely be picking up more literature surrounding the subject!
I didn’t expect that Noah would cover a ton of serious issues like colonialism, apartheid, being an outsider, education, religion, gender roles, and domestic violence. He doesn’t hold back at all.
The reason I couldn’t put it down (aside from the jokes and the crazy hijinks this mischievous boy got into) was the relationship Noah painted between him and his mother. In the book, Patricia is a rugged heroine. She knows the world that she lives in and manages to game the system so she can provide for her children.
She reads off the page like your favourite character in a YA novel or an amazing action movie. She’s fearless, rebellious, and also very religious. And even though she’s incredibly strict, she’s Noah’s teammate. Her determination to save her son from a cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse makes you root for her.
This is more than just a celebrity memoir. Yes, it’s a book that touches upon important issues in a country that has so often been portrayed through the eyes of white historians, journalists, and writers. But it’s also a book about family, friendship, and first crushes.
It’s also written in a way that makes you think, “Oh, I’ll just read one more essay and then I’ll put it down.” But then you can’t put it down because you just have to know what comes next in Noah’s life.
While the jokes did land in print, I’d love to give the audiobook a try. And I’ll definitely be watching the film adaptation!
The best resource for ways to help, where you can donate, and protest FAQs: https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/
If you’re Canadian like I am, please consider donating to these places:
- https://www.rainbowrailroad.org/ (Remember, your feminism isn’t valid until it’s intersectional)
You can find numerous anti-racist book lists, but here’s one that I’ve been referring to: https://bookshop.org/lists/anti-racism
Black Lives Matter.