Saturday, February 25, 2017

*Review* #BeatTheBacklist - Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Genre: Memoir
Published: November 15, 2016
Pages: 304


The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of 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.


I listened to the audiobook version of this book. It is narrated by the author, which I fully expected since Noah is a comedian and tv personality.

I will freely admit that I was most interested in this book because of Noah's position on The Daily Show. Without that, this book would have never made it on my radar. That being said, I'm glad that I got this book.

Hearing about Noah's life growing up in South Africa was fascinating, and I know more about apartheid now than I did before. It is a great book if for nothing else than the first hand account of life under apartheid, especially for a colored boy (that is the term used by Noah and the government of South Africa to describe people who are neither all black nor all white. I apologize if my use of it is offensive.) 

The part of Noah's story that seemed strangest to me is that someone who is my age (he's just two months younger than me) would be considered illegal at birth because his parents were different races. His mother could have gone to jail just for giving birth to him! I still can't fully wrap my mind around that, so I can't fully grasp what it was like growing up that way. I'm trying, but my mind feels stuck in a "There's no way that's real" place right now. 

There were a lot of times while listening where I felt like Noah's experiences growing up in South Africa somewhat mirrored the experiences of black people here in America, however it should be noted that I don't have personal experience being a black person in America so it's just what I understand to be their experience from things I've read. And I could be completely off-base there, but there were several times I found myself thinking things like "Oh, that sounds like that one article I read two weeks ago." 

This is a memoir where I don't feel like I necessarily know the author better on a personal level, but I did come away feeling a greater understanding of the experiences that shaped him overall. And it was a really intriguing book in general. I would definitely recommend it to others. 

5 out of 5 stars. - Katie 

Buy the Book

About the Author

Trevor Noah is a South African comedian, television and radio host and actor. He currently hosts The Daily Show, a late-night television talk show on Comedy Central.


  1. I must confess to be woefully ignorant about apartheid. Sounds like an interesting read.

    1. I didn't realize how ignorant I was about apartheid until I listened to this book. I thought I had a decent understanding of it, but I was wrong. - Katie

  2. I'd never even HEARD the word apartheid before this review. His book sounds fascinating. I'm with you on the struggle to wrap your brain around the fact that his birth was a crime so recently. I feel like I've had a very sheltered white upbringing in the US. Hopefully I can expand my children's horizons more than mine have been! This is totally going on my TBR list. (Hopefully I can get the audiobook.)

    1. I briefly learned about apartheid in school, so I at least knew of it and sort of what it was about, but I clearly didn't learn enough. - Katie

  3. This book is one of my tops reads of 2017

    1. If I had the energy to make myself pick top reads, it would very likely be one of mine as well. - Katie