In Born a Crime, Trevor Noah, comedian and host of The Daily Show, writes stories of his childhood in South Africa. He speaks of his family, friends, early relationships, adolescence, and the tense situation of the country at the time. When he was born, racist laws made it illegal for black people and white people to have relationships, let alone children—so his mixed race heritage makes him stigmatized. Throughout his youth, though, he manages to find not only ways to survive, but also happiness and strength.
Noah is an excellent writer, painting a vivid picture of apartheid and post-apartheid in South Africa. However, he also manages to convey a lot of humor and hope, telling nonsequential anecdotes that shed light on what life was like there. His childhood friends, first crushes, and extended family are all portrayed well (from what I can tell; I don’t know them personally, but you know what I mean).
The strongest character, though, is without doubt Noah’s mother. She is shown to be an extraordinary person—fierce and independent and fearless. Watching her journey is fantastic, and when we learn about her relationship with Abel, it is so troubling, yet also an important example of how insidious and entrapping abusive relationships can be, even for strong people. And Noah’s admission that he didn’t understand it was great; he is self-aware of his flaws, and his growth is moving.
In the end, Born a Crime is a wonderful read, shedding light on a part of history I didn’t know much about. South Africa in the latter part of the twentieth century is shown as a complicated, troubled place, but with strength and resilience and a place where people can find connection even in a place that was, for so long, designed to be divisive. Noah’s narration is engaging, and the stories are in turns funny, painful, touching, disheartening—but always powerful.
Overall rating: 8.8/10