born a crime by trevor noah

BORN A CRIME by Trevor Noah [Book Thoughts]

Born a Crime
Written by Trevor Noah
Audiobook read by Trevor Noah
Published by Random House Publishing Group on November 15th 2016
ISBN: 9780399588174
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs, Essays, Performing Arts
Pages: 304
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased

This post contains affiliate links to Indiebound.org. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.

>Shop Indie Bookstores

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 stories 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.

BORN A CRIME by Trevor Noah: Reading Ahead of a Readalong

I gave up watching The Daily Show once (my beloved) Jon Stewart left his role as host. I’ve read that his successor Trevor Noah has been coming into his own as host after a bumpy start, and I’ve seen Noah as a guest on talk shows and found him rather appealing. But I haven’t gone back to DTS, and I might not have even noticed Noah’s memoir Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood.

However, I became interested when Noah discussed the book with Stephen Colbert on The Late Show. Then Nancy “highly recommended” it and I used an Audible credit to buy it. When Book Bloggers International announced Born a Crime as their February Readalong, that was my cue to get reading. And once I started, I blew right through.

Noah broke through as a stand-up comic, and if you intend to read Born a Crime, I highly recommend you listen to him read it to you; his performance is terrific. However, I need to say this: many of the stories he has to tell are not all that funny.

BORN A CRIME, Growing Up Under and After Apartheid

Trevor Noah was born in 1984, several years before South Africa’s institutionalized system of racial segregation ended. His mother was Black, from the Xhosa tribe; his father was White, a Swiss expatriate. It was illegal for them to be together at all, let alone have a child. But Patricia Noah wanted to have a kid, and she wasn’t intimidated by the prospect of raising a mixed-race one on her own.

Trevor wasn’t just “a crime” by birth; he was a misfit within South Africa’s racial classifications. “Biracial” was illegal and therefore didn’t officially exist. Raised by a Black mother, he self-identified as Black but was questioned about his light skin tone. He looked “Coloured” but didn’t come from the colonial history of race-mixing that predated apartheid. He wasn’t fully White, and he was clearly not “Indian” (Asian).

Noah lived under apartheid for the first ten years of his life, until it ended in 1994 with the formation of a democratic South African government. His background gives him a unique perspective on race and society. His “stories from a South African childhood” include plenty of humor and mischief, but there’s no shortage of struggle, either. The family was often desperately poor and moved frequently.

Born a Crime is about growing up in a particular place in a time of great change. I was intrigued by the compare-and-contrast between South African and American cultural and racial attitudes. But it’s also the story of a mother and son. With Trevor and Patricia Noah, the personal resonates even more strongly than the political.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be a regular Daily Show viewer again, but I’m so glad I read Born a Crime.

BORN A CRIME: 5 Things VULTURE Learned From the Book
  • Noah had a very religious childhood, attending three churches every Sunday.
  • He was raised speaking English as his first language.
    This was a deliberate choice from his Xhosa mother, to give him more opportunities later in life.
  • His mother chose the name Trevor specifically because it had no meaning in South Africa, nor any biblical reference. “It’s just a name. My mother wanted her child beholden to no fate.”
  • He became a profitable businessman in high school. This meant he floated around his high school like a social butterfly, mixing with different groups without ever being fully included in their circles
  • He was arrested as a teenager and spent a week in jail. When he returned home, he tried to pretend that he’d simply been staying with a friend. In time, he realized that his mother had been the one to hire his lawyer and pay his bail.
BORN A CRIME by Trevor Noah: Excerpt from “Run”

I was nine years old when my mother threw me out of a moving car. It happened on a Sunday. I know it was on a Sunday because we were coming home from church, and every Sunday in my childhood meant church. We never missed church. My mother was—­and still is—­ a deeply religious woman. Very Christian. Like indigenous peoples around the world, black South Africans adopted the religion of our colonizers. By “adopt” I mean it was forced on us. The white man was quite stern with the native. “You need to pray to Jesus,” he said. “Jesus will save you.” To which the native replied, “Well, we do need to be saved—­saved from you, but that’s beside the point. So let’s give this Jesus thing a shot.”

My whole family is religious, but where my mother was Team Jesus all the way, my grandmother balanced her Christian faith with the traditional Xhosa beliefs she’d grown up with, communicating with the spirits of our ancestors. For a long time I didn’t understand why so many black people had abandoned their indigenous faith for Christianity. But the more we went to church and the longer I sat in those pews the more I learned about how Christianity works: 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.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 8 other subscribers

THE MOTHERS by Brit Bennett [Book Thoughts]

THE MOTHERS by Brit Bennett [Book Thoughts]

The Mothers Written by Brit Bennett Audiobook read by Adenrele Ojo Published by Penguin on October 11th 2016 ISBN: 9780399184536 Genres: Fiction, Literary Pages: 288 Format: audiobook Source: purchased This post contains affiliate links to Indiebound.org. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.> Set within a contemporary black community in Southern California, Brit Bennett’s mesmerizing first novel is an emotionally perceptive story about community, love, […]

Readings for the Resistance, February 2017 (Part 2) [Links]

Readings for the Resistance, February 2017 (Part 2) [Links]

I had hoped to get Readings for the Resistance, February 2017 (Part 2) up last week, but job transitioning took precedence. (On that note, today is officially my first day as Chief Financial Officer at Aviva Family and Childen’s Services.) The delay just gave me more time to collect links! Is resistance happening near you? Check out The Resistance Calendar. It’s That Guy. The Resistible One. President Trump is a ‘world-class narcissist,’ but he’s not mentally […]

Reading, ‘Riting, Changing [Currently]

Reading, ‘Riting, Changing [Currently]

I’m Moving On Up! (To the Office Next Door) Some of you may have already seen this on social media, but I had some big news last week: After nearly 14 years as Controller with Aviva Family and Children’s Services, I’m excited to share the news that I am moving up into the role of Chief Financial Officer as of February 20! I’ll officially start as Interim CFO, transitioning into my new responsibilities as I […]

Carrie Fisher: Wishful Drinking With the Shockaholic Princess Diarist

Carrie Fisher: Wishful Drinking With the Shockaholic Princess Diarist

The Princess Diarist Written by Carrie Fisher Audiobook read by carrie fisher, billie lourd Published by Blue Rider Press on October 18th 2016 ISBN: 0399173595 Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs, Popular Culture Pages: 257 Format: audiobook Source: purchased This post contains affiliate links to Indiebound.org. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.> The Princess Diarist is Carrie Fisher’s intimate, hilarious and revealing recollection of what happened […]

THIS IS NOT OVER by Holly Brown [Book Thoughts]

THIS IS NOT OVER by Holly Brown [Book Thoughts]

I received this book for review consideration from the publisher, via Shelf Awareness for Readers. All opinions are my own.This Is Not Over Written by Holly Brown Published by William Morrow, HarperCollins on January 17th 2017 ISBN: 9780062456830 Genres: Fiction, Suspense Pages: 400 Format: ARC Source: publisher, via Shelf Awareness for Readers This post contains affiliate links to Indiebound.org. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the […]

Readings for the Resistance No. 3 [February 5. 2017]

Readings for the Resistance No. 3 [February 5. 2017]

I have several different, but not opposing, goals for these “Readings for the Resistance” roundups. Some of the posts and articles I’ll share are practical–they advise or offer support. Some are analytical–they provide background and context for recent events. They’re stories I found thought-provoking, or provocative (not necessarily the same thing), or perspective-shifting. I collect more links over the course of a week than I include in these posts. And there are links I don’t save […]