Book Review: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

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. Working with Andrew was the first time in my life I realized you need someone from the privileged world to come to you and say, “Okay, here’s what you need, and here’s how it works.” Talent alone would have gotten me nowhere without Andrew giving me the CD writer. People say, “Oh, that’s a handout.” No. I still have to work to profit by it. But I don’t stand a chance without it.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

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Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Biography

Goodreads: 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.

REVIEW

Being a huge fan of Trevor Noah’s stand-up comedy, when I discovered this book in the blogosphere, my immediate reaction was that a) I need to read it b) I need to read it as soon as possible c) say what about book bloggers having no impact? Now, here I am, rating this a strong five stars.

I know apartheid existed, but I don’t know anything beyond the basic facts. Through Noah’s 19 stories, we learn intimate details of what it was like to live in South Africa post-apartheid. We learn primarily about Trevor’s childhood as a coloured person which comes with its own unique set of challenges and how Trevor, always the outsider, never fitting in anywhere, utilised his ability to speak several South African languages and humour, in a chameleon-like manner, to combat his lack of companionship. Trevor Noah possesses a unique gift for storytelling, effortlessly entertaining with a surprising ability to educate. I’ve always thought a book should be able to do at least one of two things: 1) entertain 2) educate, and it’s a rare sight to see those two combined. This has been one of my most pleasurable reading experiences, one that I didn’t want to come to an end.

I fell in love with Trevor Noah’s mother, Patricia. She is the best part of this memoir. Patricia, since her youth, has been driven, rebellious – to the point that Rhett Butler would be proud -, strong-willed, open-minded, never limiting what her son could and couldn’t do (unless it concerns religion) and a woman of such strong and unwavering faith. Allegedly, Lupita Nyong’o will produce and star in an upcoming film adaptation. Those of you who follow me on Goodreads will know that I have expressed a very firm desire for a film on Patricia and Trevor Noah to be made, so I’m very excited.

Calvin Klein 205W39NYC show, Spring Summer 2018, New York Fashion Week, USA - 07 Sep 2017
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Neil Rasmus/BFA/REX/Shutterstock (9047196ab) Lupita Nyong’o, Trevor Noah Calvin Klein 205W39NYC show, Spring Summer 2018, New York Fashion Week, USA – 07 Sep 2017

The only person in Noah’s life who I didn’t like – in fact, despised – was his stepfather. Violent, unpredictable and sinister, Abel’s actions shocked me. It really demonstrates how anyone can fall victim to domestic violence, even the strongest women can be affected. This is where the system confused me – rape is punished, but a man beating his wife? “She was probably asking for it, you know how women can be.” This is where I have to disagree with readers reactions, including my own initial reaction, to the ending of A List of Cages because once you find out how Patricia and Abel’s relationship came to a complete end, you will be shocked that things like this are indeed very realistic in a system where pleas for help are easily dismissed and ignored, and where some men feel so entitled to others that they believe that the opposite sex and young children are theirs to attack and abuse – and just to be clear, women are not entitled to men either and men are not theirs to attack, it’s a two-way street. But Patricia is a person of faith and, miraculously, she survives. I may not share the same religion, but I cannot help but admire her optimism and resilience. Patricia is an extraordinary, remarkable and admirable woman.

There are so many moments and stories that will make you laugh; there were some that made me laugh so much that I had to put the book down to collect myself. The two most stand-out funny moments has to be: Trevor and his excrement (it sounds disgusting now, but you’ll be laughing when you read it) and the story of Trevor’s dancer friend, named Hitler, performing at a school (it sounds horrifying now, but you’ll be laughing when you read it!).

Noah’s memoir is entertaining, educational and uplifting. To be read at your own pace. Its flaw? I would have liked an extra hundred or so pages because I was enjoying it so much. This is a book that I will recommend to everyone and this is not something I do often. If you’re looking to gift a book? This, right here, would be the best choice because it possesses a wide-ranging appeal that makes it suitable for everyone.

copy of the hate u give


What are your thoughts on Born a Crime? Are you a fan of Trevor Noah, have you watched his stand-up routines? What is your opinion on Trevor Noah’s comment on India and Pakistan relations and on cancel culture? Let me know in the comments!

By Sophia Ismaa

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-Let’s talk all things books on Goodreads
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24 Comments

  1. Hey loved your blog. I too love books and hope we can share our passion for books. Followed you. I am new here so plz visit my blog and let me know your thoughts 😄😄😄

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    1. I think you’ll love Trevor Noah! (He is very likeable though, I have to say). Well put, a “hand up.” It’s like the difference between the token person of colour at a company to fill a diversity quota and an actual role/opportunity given to a person of colour to help us develop the skills that we need to advance.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I had never heard of Trevor Noah until he began hosting The Daily Show, which I’ve never watched because I only have basic cable. Even since his rise to fame, I’ve only seen a couple of brief YouTube clips of his show provided as links on The Washington Post’s enewsletter, The Daily 202. What few minutes I’ve seen reveal him to be funny and insightful. The book sounds interesting, I may check it out one of these days. SO many books, so little time, y’know…

    I have no idea what he said about India & Pakistan relations, & I didn’t see any other reference to those comments in this post. I also have never heard of ‘cancel culture’ but can make a pretty good guess as to what it is.

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    1. I haven’t watched an episode of The Daily Show (yet), it was in one of the episodes where he made a joke about the ongoing tension between India and Pakistan; it was along the lines of will they start dancing in the middle of a war (Bollywood reference). Many South Asian people condemned the joke. While I don’t think it was done with poor intentions, Trevor has spoken about how he uses humour as a defence mechanism, I just don’t think it was his situation to make light of, but I don’t think he should be reviled either. I think the joke was in poor taste; I think it might have been received differently if it was an Indian or Pakistani comedian.

      I think you will love it, it’s the best book I’ve read this year and I doubt anything will top it at this rate. Son of Patricia (his Netflix special) I think may appeal to your own beliefs. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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