by Haley Burnside
Trevor Noah, a man best known in America for his current hosting gig at “The Daily Show,” recounts his life growing up in South Africa in the wake of Apartheid in this honest memoir. The tone effortlessly shifts from poignant to amusing, from bleak to blissful, as Trevor shares his struggles and triumphs with race, poverty, and childhood naughtiness.
The book begins in an action sequence in which Noah describes how his mother’s piety leads to a near death experience. As he humorously explains his mother’s meticulous Sunday worship ritual, he subtly weaves in anecdotes about his experiences. He ends the opening chapter with a lighthearted moment shared with his mom.
The rest of the book divides its focus between stories about Noah’s mother and Noah’s struggle with racial identity in South Africa’s shifting political sphere. Noah explains the burden of literally being born a crime.
As the son of a white father and a black mother in a country that had outlawed sexual relations between the different races, Noah lived a precarious life in his early years. His mixed skin tone pushed him into the “colored” category in South Africa’s legal system, which had advantages and disadvantages that Noah humorously outlines throughout the book.
After Nelson Mandela ended apartheid, Noah continued to deal with the social issues with being a colored child in a black household.
In a world so thoroughly divided by skin color, Noah explains how his mixed race made him constantly an outsider. His analysis and rejection of the issues in his society are told with honesty that made the book feel like an educational read. In line with his format as host of “The Daily Show,” Noah blends serious topics with jokes and humor to create an ultimately entertaining but informative result.
Noah comedically recounts his school years, where he repeatedly tested authority and attempted to escape the consequences. The relatable rambunctious childhood stories display how universal certain experiences are regardless of the country in which they occur.
As he tells the events of his teenage and early adult years, he maintains the same witty outlook even as he tackles life’s more hefty issues and dilemmas. Noah illuminates the truths of poverty and his quest to earn money as a cleverly resourceful teen. He discloses his darker moments, such as his run-ins with the law and his exploration of a society riddled with economic disparity.
The common thread throughout the course of the book is Noah’s mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah. He makes it clear that she had a profound in influence on his life and his character. Each chapter either starts or ends with her, which shows the genuine strength of the relationship between the mother and son.
The final chapter will grip the reader and even tempt tears from the stoic. As the story comes to an end, Noah brings the narrative full circle in a poignant and bittersweet conclusion.
The book provides a unique perspective on racism and xenophobia. The stories Noah shares take place in South Africa in the last few decades of the 20th century, but the many of issues are prevalent in America today.
This is a timely read during Black History Month as it addressed racial issues in society.
In sharing problems his mother faced as a black woman and a single mother, Noah ties in the topic of feminism in a subtly powerful way. Without lecturing on the topics, he advocates for both racial and gender equality. He uses his personal experiences to implicitly comment on these relevant subjects.
“Born a Crime” is much more than a celebrity memoir. While the stories are Noah’s, told in a coming-of-age format, many of the themes are universal. Additionally, the book sheds light on a number of is- sues related to family, race, money, crime, friendship, abuse and religion. Noah is able to cover several topics in a cohesive and easy-to-follow manner, making “Born a Crime” a digestible quick read.
This book is ideal whether you seek a genuinely humorous read or an in depth account of societal issues. Fans of “The Daily Show” will enjoy the background “Born a Crime” provides on its famously adorable host, and strangers to Noah will be introduced to the comedian’s signature style through this captivating book.