Born a Crime — Trevor Noah

March 24, 2018

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

TITLE: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
AUTHOR: Trevor Noah
RELEASED: November 15th, 2016; Spiegel & Grau
GENRE: Nonfiction
SYNOPSIS: The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime New York Times bestseller about 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.


“Relationships are built in the silences. You spend time with people, you observe them and interact with them, and you come to know them—and that is what apartheid stole from us: time.”

a·part·heid (noun)
1 a rigid former policy of segregating and economically and politically oppressing the nonwhite population.
2 any system or practice that separates people according to color, ethnicity, caste, etc.


“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.”

This review took me over a month to write, because this book was so profound, so heavy, and made such a tremendous impact upon my life that I just didn’t think my own words could ever do it justice. I still do not believe that my words can do this book justice, but I’m going to try my best to tell you why you absolutely should not hesitate to pick up a copy of it immediately.

“People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing.”

Trevor is a magnificent storyteller, but more than that, he manages to word things so eloquently and in such an air-tight manner that it’s impossible not to understand them. If you are someone who is uncertain on the travesties of racism, colorism, classism, apartheid, modern segregation, and the chain of poverty—and how all of these things combine to hold down marginalized individuals, whether we’re talking about South Africa in the 90s or the USA today—I can almost guarantee that Trevor’s explanations, stories, and anecdotes clear the fog on these topics. Even as someone who has spent my entire adult life trying to understand these topics as much as possible, and to recognize and not take advantage of my own privileges as a white individual, there was so much in this book that I didn’t know, or had never truly allowed to sink in, and it genuinely changed who I am as a person.

“If you’re Native American and you pray to the wolves, you’re a savage. If you’re African and you pray to your ancestors, you’re a primitive. But when white people pray to a guy who turns water into wine, well, that’s just common sense.”

Not only does Trevor explain a lot about South Africa’s specific struggles with apartheid and the political climate of his childhood, he also manages to convey the absolute traumas that colonialism have wreaked about this world. He spends a great deal of time explaining how the cultures of many African peoples have been suppressed and erased over the years, even in subtle ways that I hadn’t given nearly enough thought to before—like his family and friends’ increasing frustrations with living in a society that did not value the languages that already existed, but instead, forced the original inhabitants of the lands to change their languages, religions, and practices to accommodate the newcomers.

“When you make the effort to speak someone else’s language, even if it’s just basic phrases here and there, you are saying to them, ‘I understand that you have a culture and identity that exists beyond me. I see you as a human being.’”

Throughout the troubles and strife, Trevor also weaves delightful, captivating stories about his own childhood and the experiences he had whilst growing up as an illegal biracial child in South Africa. He explains how he had to keep hidden in his younger years, and could not speak to his own father in public, for fear of what would happen if the neighbors realized who Trevor’s white father was. In the midst of the heartaches and fears he describes, he also conveys a slew of hilarious childhood adventures, and slowly, shows the reader how he came to be this incredibly charismatic, multilingual individual we know and love today. (For this matter, I cannot recommend the audiobook format highly enough, as Trevor himself narrates the book, and his deliveries and impressions cannot possibly be outdone by words on a printed page.)



More about Destiny @ Howling Libraries

Just a horror aficionado/geek girl trying to juggle motherhood, reading, blogging, gaming, and everyday life.

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    1. Wow, sounds like a book that every white person should read. Thanks for bring this to my attention?

    1. This book was amazing and I totally agree that the audiobook is wow ?
      Your review is excellent too… you capture the essence of the book very well through your words.. ??

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