Memoir Book Reviews

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood

For those that don’t already know who Trevor Noah is, he is a comedian from South Africa that is now the current host of The Daily Show, taking the place of Jon Stewart when he retired. Trevor is an accomplished polyglot, speaking 9 languages fluently and has some fluency in several more. In much of his comedy he talks about his difficulties with racial identity having been born during apartheid to an African mother and a Swiss father. Apartheid was a system of institutionalized segregation in South Africa that lasted from the 1940’s to the 1990’s.

The book is bursting at the seams with humorous anecdotes about growing up as the wild child in his family. Getting in trouble, trying to outrun and outsmart his mom, committing petty crimes with friends, striking out with girls; Trevor’s life was colorful in no small part because of his mother. In interviews Trevor has stated that his memoir became sort of an open love letter to his mother, Patricia Noah–a fiercely independent woman that refused to be held down by her race or gender and sought to show her son the world outside of apartheid South Africa, who tried to save her son from the cruelty of the world.

“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.”

The last chapters had me sobbing which was something that I hadn’t anticipated. Trevor mentions his step-father in the early chapters in passing, like a dark cloud that hung over his family’s life. I wasn’t prepared for the deeply troubling and heartbreaking portrait of a loving family ripped apart by abuse and the failures of law enforcement to prevent tragedy despite numerous attempts to get help.

I was already a fan of Trevor Noah, having watched some of his stand-up comedy and was overjoyed when he took over The Daily Show. From this memoir I have a newfound respect for Trevor not only for the horrendous abuse and racism he has endured, but how he allowed these things to shape who he is. He approaches issues of race, identity, poverty, and abuse with honesty and was able to articulate his feelings on topics that I have been struggling with for years. This memoir was surprisingly cathartic to me as someone that has struggled both with a mixed racial background and as a survivor of domestic abuse.

“The world doesn’t love you. If the police get you, the police don’t love you. When I beat you, I’m trying to save you. When they beat you, they’re trying to kill you.”

This was a wonderful memoir that really showcased that even in the darkest of places one can still find hope and strength in love. It was both insightful and laugh out loud funny, even if some of the humor could be viewed as highly offensive. I really enjoyed this memoir and am happy that I read it, it’s definitely going down on my shelf as a favorite.

Title: Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood
Author: Trevor Noah
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Publication Date: November 15, 2016
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

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.


  1. I’ve never heard of this book but it sounds so interesting! Great review!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Darby! Trevor Noah is a stand up comedian that has become popular recently in the United States after he took over The Daily Show from Jon Stewart. He’s really quite funny and this memoir was really great.

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