Born a Crime and Other Stories (2016) – Trevor Noah

TitleBorn a Crime and Other Stories
Author:Trevor Noah
Publisher:Pan Macmillan
Publication Date:2016
Star rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I have always been a fan of Trevor Noah’s. Over the years I’ve followed his stand-up comedy career with relish as he has systematically embraced politics and brought humor to the everyday living of all South Africans. As devastating and unjust as Apartheid was, as South Africans dealing with the last few decades from one precarious step to the next it is sometimes needed to just be ‘in on the joke’. However Trevor is not just for South Africans as was made abundantly clear in 2015 when he took over the hosting of the American satirical news show, The Daily Show from long time host Jon Stewart. Suddenly he became the comedian that everyone can laugh with. His American political satire is ‘on point’ (to coin a phrase I am not a fan of), and his jokes are very often diluted with a subtle drop of realism that no one can deny reveals a person with some very serious life experience behind them. This is not so uncommon for comedians, but is more unique in that Trevor Noah is really only 36 years old. As a kid growing up in the nineties in a so-called ‘developing ‘ or ‘third-world’ country his only exposure to popular culture was through American culture on TV – which makes his ability to adapt so much more extraordinary.

Born a Crime is not a collection of his usually hilarious life observations. Rather the essays collected here are memoirs of a man growing up in a country whose heinous segregation of its citizens made his own birth a literal crime. His mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo a black South African woman and his father Robert, a white German man conducted an illegal and illicit relationship during a time when this was punishable by serious jail time. Trevor’s consequent identity crisis is something that he carried with him throughout his childhood and teenage years growing up in the ‘ghettos’ of Johannesburg.

Being South African and only a few years younger than Trevor his memories of growing up in the nineties are so relatable, and yet his experiences of apartheid are not what I experienced having been born white. As you read his words it is easy to forget to acknowledge the unjust and heinous system that caused his mother to walk on the opposite side of the road of Trevor when taking a walk out in public so that she would not be identified as his mother – a black woman with a coloured son. Or the constant shadow of crime that did and still does permeate each and every South African’s permanent state of being, and that we are forced to acknowledge as he describes a nightmarish ride in a taxi with his mother that ended with Patricia and Trevor throwing themselves from a moving vehicle.

As well as anecdotes from living in South Africa, Trevor speaks about his family life with an undeniable warmth. Most noteworthy is the relationship with his mother whose strength and often wicked sense of humor are clearly traits her famous son inherited in abundance. Before Patricia married Trevor’s step-father, Abel, and before the birth of his brothers Andrew and Isaac, it was just the two of them. Trevor speaks fondly of being encouraged to read, communicating with his mother with handwritten letters and not so fondly remembering the hours spent attending every different type of Christian church imaginable. This life with a headstrong mother was offset by the alcoholic step-father whose role in his life was part of the cautionary tale he sheds light upon.

In Trevor’s own unique voice the reader is treated to snippets of a life of poverty, witnessing of abuse and a deep identity crisis, and yet never once are we made to feel sorry for the author. Trevor writes for South Africans and he writes for his international audience, and even though I am not completely clear on this, I sincerely hope he writes for himself. In so many ways he is an optimist and a realist, and has admitted that from the time he was a little boy he was the kind of person who searched for life’s boundary lines, and then promptly made plans to leap right over them.

It is difficult to review a book from a person you so admire as the fine line between the person and the written words are often blurred. To review Born a Crime is not to review Trevor Noah however I would be remiss if I didn’t admit a severe bias towards a man whose life and words and work continue to inspire me daily. As to the work specifically some of the more notable moments from an extraordinary life may be found in his tales of living as a ‘coloured’ child, and the often very noticeable differences between black and white, and what that means in South Africa. Trevor Noah was a self-proclaimed naughty child who often found himself inadvertently getting intro trouble with his mother, his grandmother and even the law. Some of the more memoir worthy stories include accidentally burning down a house, spending a few nights in jail and the shocking climax of the last battle between Patricia and Abel. Not all his reminisces are so far removed from our own as he navigates the dating world as a teenager and reveals his love for his childhood pets and the wonderful world of the internet that as a child of the nineties I can completely relate to.

In the end though Trevor Noah is the friend we all wish we had, and that is not only because he is so damn nice but also because he is so damn honest. That being said I honestly believe he has a lot more to say, and a lot more stories to tell. Bravo Trevor! Bravo!

4 thoughts on “Born a Crime and Other Stories (2016) – Trevor Noah”

  1. Hi Meg, I am a great fan of Trevor Noah as well and your beautifully written, very descriptive review, with your personal input has really made me want to read this book. Having time to read now I am at home more, I can’t wait to get it and start reading. Thank you.

    • Hi Jane,

      Thank you so much for your kind words. I really appreciate them, and I do hope you manage to find a copy of this book. Trevor Noah is an absolute gem.

  2. Dear Meg,

    Great piece, objective and personal. I must say, I have been putting off reading this book, not for any particular reason, although my friends recommend it often. Honestly, to borrow your mood here, being an American I really-really wanted to get a South African’s opinion on Noah. It was warm and wonderful to see that you admire the comedian so much. Especially the parts where you mention he could have been a good friend, not just a book in your hand. Awesome! I swear I will get this book some day soon. And indulge in the 90s’ness.

    In the meantime, I’m passing this post along to those who admire the host as much as you do 🙂



    • Hi Ivan,
      Thank you so much for your kind words and for taking the time to read this review. This one particularly has a special place in my heart. Trevor Noah is an amazing writer and a beloved human being and it shows in Born a Crime. A very genuine story that I will always recommend. Thank you for passing the post along too, as I really hope more and more people are able to read this book.


Post a Comment

%d bloggers like this: