Written by Trevor Noah
Audiobook read by Trevor Noah
Published by Random House Publishing Group on November 15th 2016
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs, Essays, Performing Arts
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.