Born a Crime by Trevor Noah — Book review

This is the story of Trevor Noah’s early life in South Africa, covering the lively and occasionally brutal world that he grew up in. There’s a mix of social history, funny stories and reflection on growing up as an outsider. It all comes together in an entertaining and touching portrait of a tough childhood.

I didn’t know much a Trevor Noah before reading this book. I was aware he took over the Daily Show job and have seen a few clips of his standup, but little more. This wasn’t a barrier to enjoying this book though, as the action all takes place well before he became famous. It covers his birth up to his late teens with some stuff in his early twenties.

South African history

One of the things that I liked most about this book was the personal perspective it gave on apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa. There’s some interesting commentary from Noah about the fundamentally racist regime that drew up the system and how it impacted on the daily life of people.

Talking about it from the perspective of a child that lived through it provides an interesting angle to look at this part of history. It’s less about the personalities or the politicians and more about the experience of daily living and the weird acceptance that comes from growing up in a terrible system.

Race is an issue that was never far away in Noah’s childhood and it was clear throughout the book that the end of apartheid in South Africa was not the end of racial tensions. In fact, it seems that many of the issues outlined in the book, though describing the situation more than twenty years ago, are still relevant to modern South Africa.

A childhood full of all kinds of trouble

Another key theme throughout the book was how much of a little shit he was as a child. He was no stranger to getting into bother and would often end up with a beating as a result of the capers that he got involved in.

There’s a particularly funny story about him taking a poo in an unusual location — I’ll not say more to avoid spoiling it. Maybe it’s my juvenile sense of humour, but that section had me literally laughing out loud as the story unfolded.

Growing up as an outsider

Trevor Noah’s childhood was tough and whatever the situation he describes the common theme was that he was always on the outside. Usually because of his racial mix, in a country where your race was constantly used to judge you as a person.

Trevor Noah’s childhood was tough and whatever the situation he describes the common theme was that he was always on the outside. Usually because of his racial mix, in a country where your race was constantly used to judge you as a person.

It made me feel sad for him that he never felt like he belonged when he was young and he was made to feel like he was on the edge of things. It’s possible that these experiences are the kind of thing that you have to experience to be able to have the comedians wry look on the world. Those keen observational skills that produce a stand-up’s material may be honed in years of sitting on the periphery and watching other people in the middle.

Verdict 87 out of 100

I really enjoyed this book. Trevor Noah manages to tell a series of entertaining and funny stories while still explaining the troubling wider context of South Africa in the eighties and nineties. Funny, interesting and touching at times, sometimes all at once. It’s a book I’d strongly recommend, even if you’re not familiar with Trevor Noah’s work.


Originally published at www.goodstuff.blog on February 28, 2017.

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