Born a Crime is the new (and first) book by Trevor Noah in which he tells about his childhood growing up as a mixed child in South Africa during apartheid. In numerous chapters, he recounts stories and anecdotes from his childhood, interspersed with political information, historical background information and commentary.
Surprisingly, Noah’s career jump to host of the most popular political satire show in the world, The Daily Show, is not mentioned. This isn’t an American “from rags to riches” story. This is a story about how comedy, resiliance and creativity can get you through even the worst hardships in life.
Title: Born a Crime
Author: Trevor Noah
Genre: Autobiography / Satire / Politics
ISBN: 0399588175 (Hardcover)
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Price: US$14.99 (Kindle)
About Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah was born in 1984 as the son of a black South-African woman and a white Swiss father. Due to South African laws at the time, which forbade relationships between people of different colors, he was literally born a crime. His entire childhood revolved around a game of hiding from the authorities, so that he would never be seen together with either one of his parents in public. Through his hardships, Noah began a career as comedian in his 20s.
In 2015, Trevor Noah became Jon Stewart’s successor in Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, one of the most popular fake news shows of the world.
I heard about this book in several television interviews with Trevor Noah. As an avid viewer of The Daily Show, Noah’s personality interested me, but I have to be honest, I didn’t want to read the book at first. Usually, autobiographies aren’t something that interests me unless they deal with a person whose political background fascinates me: such as the two books by North Korean defectors I read recently. In short, South Africa was never a country of particular interest to me.
But after having heard so many positive television reviews, I changed my mind about not wanting to read the book. The most significant interview that really peaked my interest was this:
So I bought the book and started reading.
And what can I say? I couldn’t put the book down. Noah’s writing style is so compelling, it gripped me from the start. The way he intersperses the story of his parents with his own, with South African history and political background, and with cultural history is ingenious.
Without realizing it, I had suddenly learned a whole lot more about apartheid than what I knew before. Sure, I knew the basics–the historical dates basically, and I had a rough idea of the concept and what was going on. But it was all that: head-facts.
Trevor Noah lets the reader be there with him, during apartheid, and through that points out the ludicrousness of racism. But his book is also a warning against all kinds of systemic racism.
What I loved the most is that Trevor Noah manages to keep a sense of humor despite the often tragic events that took place. He will make you gasp and hold your breath in shock and horror in one moment, only to have you laugh outloud two sentences later. Noah doesn’t take himself seriously, and due to that, he makes clear that he doesn’t want sympathy or pity from the readership.
This isn’t a story of personal trauma and drama, but a beautiful example of how good spirits, optimism and a sense of humor can get you through anything in life.
One thing I had a slight issue with towards the end was pacing. The second- and third-last chapters felt like fillers to me. Not much happened. Noah basically recounted how he lived with his friends, spent his days selling illegal copies of CDs and threw inofficial parties at night. It was interesting, but it was so long-winded that it started feeling repetitive and too drawn-out.
Instead, I would have liked to read more about how he got into comedy, and how the deal with Jon Stewart happened. But since Noah just started out, I assume he is going to publish more books over the course of the next few years where these aspects of his life will be covered.
Overall, I recommend this book as a must-read to anyone interested in autobiographies, in Trevor Noah, or in South Africa.