Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
by Trevor Noah
Spiegel and Grau, 2016. 304 pgs. Biography
Fans of The Daily Show are familiar with comedian Trevor Noah, who took over John Stewart’s post last year. His casting was controversial, since he was largely unknown in the United States at the time. Last week, he released his first memoir, Born a Crime. I listened to it expecting to hear the typical celebrity memoir filled with funny memories and maybe a moment or two of poignancy. Instead, I was blown away by Noah’s story.
The title of the book refers to the fact that Noah’s black mother and white father each risked five years of prison time for having a child together under South Africa’s Apartheid. “Where most children are proof of their parents’ love, I was the proof of their criminality,” he explains. On a daily basis throughout his childhood and youth, Noah experienced personal and institutionalized racism, and he struggled to find his place in a society that sharply divided black, white, and biracial people. Theft, assault, rape, and murder were each a frequent threat throughout his young life. Noah’s brilliant and devout mother refused to accept the limits placed on her based on race and sex, however, and Born a Crime is largely a love letter to her. It also includes hilarious depictions of Trevor’s antics as an overly-energetic and overly-intelligent child.
I can definitely recommend this memoir. Its essay format sometimes sometimes feels disjointed but often works brilliantly. The audiobook, narrated by the author, is also excellent. It deals with difficult subject matter and uses strong language, making it better for a mature audience.