There are a lot of reasons why Born a Crime is one of the best books I've read this year. Trevor Noah is a proven storyteller, so there's that. His life story is worth telling — the circumstances of his birth, the illegality and audacity of his very existence, so there's that. And then he provides a somehow totally new critique of race, because it's South Africa, not America. It's the same, but also totally different. This book was so good, I read it and then listened to the audiobook. Recommended By Britt A., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
The beloved #1 New York Times bestseller, this is Trevor Noah’s compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime coming of age story, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.
Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, is one of comedy’s brightest voices. A light-footed but sharp-minded observer of the absurdities of politics, race, and identity, his jokes and insights draw from the wealth of experience acquired in his relatively young life. Here Noah turns his focus inward, giving readers a deeply personal, heartfelt, and humorous look at the world that shaped him.
Noah was born a crime, the son of a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother, at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Born a Crime tells 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. These interwoven stories are equally the story of Trevor’s fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother — a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that ultimately threatens her own life.
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 wit and honesty. His stories weave together to depict a lovable delinquent 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.
“Witty and revealing…Noah’s story is the story of modern South Africa; though he enjoyed some privileges of the region’s slow Westernization, his formative years were shaped by poverty, injustice, and violence. Noah is quick with a disarming joke, and he skillfully integrates the parallel narratives via interstitial asides between chapters…. Perhaps the most harrowing tales are those of his abusive stepfather, which form the book’s final act (and which Noah cleverly foreshadows throughout earlier chapters), but equally prominent are the laugh-out-loud yarns about going to the prom, and the differences between ‘White Church’ and ‘Black Church.’” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Powerful prose… told through stories and vignettes that are sharply observed, deftly conveyed and consistently candid. Growing organically from them is an affecting investigation of identity, ethnicity, language, masculinity, nationality and, most of all, humanity — all issues that the election of Donald Trump in the United States shows are foremost in minds and hearts everywhere…. What the reader gleans are the insights that made Noah the thoughtful, observant, empathic man who wrote Born a Crime…. Here is a level-headed man, forged by remarkable and shocking life incidents, who is quietly determined and who knows where home and the heart lie. Would this unique story have been published had it been about someone not a celebrity of the planet? Possibly not, and to the detriment of potential readers, because this is a warm and very human story of the type that we will need to survive the Trump presidency’s imminent freezing of humane values.” Mail & Guardian (South Africa)
“What makes Born a Crime such a soul-nourishing pleasure, even with all its darker edges and perilous turns, is reading Noah recount in brisk, warmly conversational prose how he learned to negotiate his way through the bullying and ostracism…. What also helped was having a mother like Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah…. Consider Born a Crime another such gift to her — and an enormous gift to the rest of us.” USA Today
“You’d be hard-pressed to find a comic’s origin story better than the one Trevor Noah serves up in Born a Crime…. [He] developed his aptitude for witty truth telling [and]…every hardscrabble memory of helping his mother scrape together money for food, gas, school fees, and rent, or barely surviving the temper of his stepfather, Abel, reveals the anxious wellsprings of the comedian’s ambition and success. If there is harvest in spite of blight, the saying goes, one does not credit the blight-but Noah does manage to wring brilliant comedy from it.” O: The Oprah Magazine
“[A] compelling new memoir…By turns alarming, sad and funny, [Trevor Noah’s] book provides a harrowing look, through the prism of Mr. Noah’s family, at life in South Africa under apartheid…. In the end, Born a Crime is not just an unnerving account of growing up in South Africa under apartheid, but a love letter to the author’s remarkable mother.” Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
About the Author
Trevor Noah is the host of the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning The Daily Show.