“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.”
― Trevor Noah,
Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood
by Trevor Noah
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 am a huge fan of autobiographies by comedians. They are always entertaining and I really enjoy learning about the celebrities themselves. When it came to picking up this book I went about it a little bit differently. I didn’t know a whole lot about Trevor Noah. I’ve enjoyed the times I’ve watched him on The Daily Show. But, didn’t really know anything about him outside of that. Instead it was the idea of reading about a childhood in South Africa and the effects of Apartheid. It was a perspective I had never read before and I was intrigued.
To start off I have to mention that I listened to this book on audiobook. I truly think this is vital. First of all, it really helps to read the author’s words in their own voice. It made the stories come even more alive. Also, the components of the different languages really lends itself to an audiobook. Trevor Noah is multilingual and this is shown throughout the novel. It was really awesome to hear Noah, himself, speak the languages in the book. It helped me to understand the pronunciation and appreciate the languages in a way that I don’t think I could have if I just read the regular physical copy of the book.
This book hits hard. Noah tackles many different issues throughout the book. There is racism, race identity, abuse, and many other hard hitting topics. Noah does not just brush over these. These issues are real. They really effected Noah, his family, his neighbors, and his friends. They were building blocks to making Noah who he is today and he acknowledges that.
Noah does an amazing job of laying out his perspective. He allows us to see South Africa as he saw it as a child, as his mother saw it, and how he now reflects upon it. These varying perspectives really help to understand the whole picture of what life was like for individuals in South Africa. Apartheid and it’s aftermath is a topic that is not often spoken about. Yet, it was a tragedy. It is vital that we as human beings acknowledge our past, learn from it, and always keep it in the back of our minds. I was very happy to learn more about this serious topic.
This book was not all dark and dreary. Trevor Noah also speaks about his mother and his family in a caring and prideful manner. He truly loves and admires his mother. It shines through with every story and every line. The relationship that they have is incredible and you can feel the authenticity in this book.
There is also a great deal of humor. Though humor and the dark topics touched upon in this book do not seem as though they could both exist in the same narrative. Yet, Noah manages to do it. He walks a fine line and does it amazingly. He manages to add laughter and levity to the book without taking away from the serious points he makes. Noah is a master at weaving narratives.
Normally I go into an autobiography already loving the individual it’s about. However, I didn’t really know Trevor Noah before this book. But, after reading it? I find him funny, insightful, and respectable. I really admire him, I would recommend this to anybody even if you are not a fan of Trevor Noah this book is worth the read.
What are some autobiographies you love? Recommend some to me in the comments!