“Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood” – a review

As promised, BR&S editors have been hard at work putting together another a review for something engaging that they have come across – games, music, movies, books, a cornucopia of random points of interest.

This week, Sammy has reviewed Trevor Noah’s memoir, “Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood”.

Sammy S. –

For readers like myself who survive on professor recommends and an unholy amount of Sarah J. Maas and YA fantasy, finding something captivating outside of the go-to genre is challenging. After three years of college English courses my “go-to” genre wasn’t cutting it.

I’m still not sure if I can endorse celebrity autobiographies; some are so poorly written that I mostly cringe my way through it, but that wasn’t the case with Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. I chose this book to recommend to readers who are wanting to discover new reads and maybe don’t know where to start.

First thing to note is that Trevor Noah is currently a stand-up comedian and host of The Daily Show. He brings that sense of comedy to this book. I haven’t laughed so hard while reading a book since Junie B. Jones.

The comedy is well placed in this book as Trevor’s life revolves greatly around the aftermath of apartheid in South Africa. Comic relief is a great technique but Trevor’s comedy throughout the book never seems to cash in on one-liners or making light of a situation. In fact, most of the comedy comes from Trevor explaining how the social norms of modern-day USA are so different from what they were while he was growing up in South Africa. To name one memorable tidbit, was when Trevor praised his friend Hitler for his “killer dance moves.” Trevor of course will explain to you that there is a reason kids were often named Hitler or Mussolini or even Napoleon, but I won’t pretend to fully grasp the culture and attempt to relay it here. You’ll just have to read it (Ch. 15: Go Hitler!).

Second thing to note, Trevor Noah has done a very good job of explaining the culture he grew up in, part of that being the explanation as to why some South African children are named after dictators. That being said, the way he portrays his family and friendships is priceless. Even to a complete outsider Trevor captures the “oddness” of his situation with both family and friends, as he was born mixed race.

I don’t claim to know everything, even as an English major, and so I personally didn’t know much about apartheid and what it even was. I didn’t even really understand the true gravity of racism in other countries, which is something I believe many of us still don’t fully understand. This book helped though. Perhaps it’s not a literary masterpiece, though I’m sure I could argue for it. Perhaps it’s not the most ingenious portrayal of modern cultural instability. However, this book taught me more about how I see myself, and how I see others. Trevor Noah is a good writer, and he is good at keeping your attention. He knows what he’s talking about, he should after all; it’s his life!

I just wanted to leave off with some of my favorite quotes from the book, if what I have written hasn’t been enough to convince you.

  • “We had a very Tom and Jerry relationship, me and my mom. She was the strict disciplinarian; I was naughty as shit,” (11).
  • “I never felt poor because our lives were so rich with experience,” (72).
  • “That experience shaped what I’ve felt about relationships for the rest of my life: You do not own the thing that you love,” (100).

Noah, Trevor. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. Spiegel & Grau, 2016.

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