A review by danibeliveau
Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah


I've had a crush on Trevor Noah without knowing much about him besides his TV personality. Maybe I was biased going into this book. But his stories about his experiences under apartheid and, later, democratic South Africa only made me like him more.

These vignettes range from hilarious to mundane to heartbreaking. The picture he paints of his mother - brave, rebellious, optimistic, deeply religious - was especially touching. What I found most impressive about this memoir, though, was the persistent underlying theme of criminality across the whole work, from being born to a mixed-race couple, to being a young neighborhood rapscallion, to selling counterfeit CDs and electronics as a young adult in one of the poorer townships. Each story from Trevor's childhood and adolescence clearly demonstrates the morally ambiguous (or, at the very least, relative) nature of crime itself, especially under an inherently inhuman regime such as apartheid.

Trevor has some wise things to say the interplay of race, poverty, privilege, and power. He highlights the impossibility of forced racial divides and also, paradoxically, how strongly it affected him growing up, particularly as he developed his own sense of self. He does a great job of making South Africa come alive as well, becoming almost its own character in a supporting role in Trevor's early life. Truthfully, I was hoping for a discussion of how he came to be such a recognizable face in the United States, but it quickly became obvious that that would have been out of place in this book. It would have interrupted an otherwise entirely cohesive narrative.

A word of warning, though: I cried very openly, very much in public, while reading the last chapter. You might want to save that part for the privacy of your own home.