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Born a Crime

“I could champion racial justice in our home, or I could enjoy granny’s cookies. I went with the cookies. —” ― Trevor Noah, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood


I was lucky to see Trevor Noah speak about this book recently, and the way he talked about his story, and his life growing up in South Africa made me all the more eager to read it! The book is a cohesive collection of stories from his childhood and early adulthood, and though I am not typically a reader of much non-fiction, I found this book truly compelling and hard to put down!

Noah has a way of really drawing you in, and making you feel as though you are there with him, experiencing his memories and seeing South Africa during and after apartheid as he did. He doesn't glorify himself and doesn't shy from describing certain flaws in himself, his family and the world he grew up in, which makes it seem very real and believable, and makes me wish I knew even more.

I have never visited South Africa, but I felt like a true armchair traveler reading "Born a Crime", and learning about the way of life of "ordinary" people, instead of monumental historical figures like Nelson Mandela. I liked how Noah gave character to individual neighborhood I had never heard of, but can now visualize with a sense of greater understanding. His descriptions of the people in this book make them come to life, especially his mother, who raised Noah under difficult circumstances and to whom the book is dedicated. She is such a central character, if you will, of this book, and Noah doesn't sugarcoat her actions or mentality, which sometimes made it difficult for me to fully understand the devotion he felt toward her, when she so often put him down, beat him, and forced him to accept that her second husband and father of Noah's two younger brothers was a violent, deeply unpleasant man, whom she did not leave until it was almost too late. This was difficult to read, at times, but definitely served to paint a truly vivid image of her and of their, sometimes fraught, but ultimately loving relationship.

The explanation of segregation and divides between race were another element that fascinated me about this story, especially in light of the racial tensions that have arisen in society and culture recently, made more visible through social media and the fast pace of news (though they have obviously been there a long time). I knew, of course, of the way apartheid worked, and the extreme division and misery it created, but I did not know of the many different classifications that existed within African communities themselves, that "colored" people, as Noah describes those of mixed race, were not included in black communities or white communities, and that he, being the son of a white man and a black woman, never felt he fit in properly. It is interesting to read about this, and though the book is set in Africa, I think it is, in a way, quite timely, and well worth reading, if only to see that change for the better can happen. Segregation and racism exist everywhere, and therefore people must collectively work against it to create societies that value tolerance and diversity.

This was a well-written, thought-provoking book and I would recommend it to fans Trevor Noah, or even those who have never heard of him, but what to be entertained, and learn something in the bargain.