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.
Trevor Noah is best known for for his role in The Daily Show, as well as his stand-up:
In Born a Crime, Noah talks about his childhood and upbringing in South Africa.
I’ll admit, I really don’t have a lot of knowledge about South Africa and Apartheid apart from Nelson Mandela, and a bit about the ANC. Its a big oversight in my knowledge, and I really should read more about it. In this book, Noah seems to be aware of this relative lack of information, and goes into a lot of depth about talking about the daily realities of Apartheid and its immediate aftermath. His birth is quite literally a crime – relations between a black woman and a white man were strictly forbidden.
Some of the best and most insightful moments are when Noah talks about race. He discusses how he never quite fits in – his black grandmother refers to him as white (and therefore won’t punish him as severely as his black cousins), and he often feels out of place, as his culture and skin colour do not necessarily ‘fit’. This is much more than a political narrative, however. Noah packs so much into this relatively small memoir. There is a huge range of stories, including various childhood hijinks and discussions of the practical experiences of working in the hood. His voice comes across so clearly when retelling these. Although I’m not too familiar with his stand-up, it really did feel like he was a friend just telling me about his experiences.
What stood out for me the most, however, were all the stories about his mother. This woman is amazing. She continually does what she wants, to hell with the consequences. She raises Noah as a single-mother, and provides everything she can so that he could have a better life than she did. Her verve and consistent bravery were bright spots in this sometimes bleak memoir. There is a very frank discussion about the abusive relationship between Noah’s mother and step-father, which culminates in a murder attempt. I had been pre-warned, so I was prepared for it. I will say though, that it is very graphic, and I found myself quite disturbed. However, without it, I feel like the memoir would be nowhere near as powerful, because with this, Noah really shows his awareness of the gendered aspects of race and Apartheid, which the rest of the narrative doesn’t necessarily do.
Even if you’re not necessarily familiar with Trevor Noah, this is so much more than the memoir of a comedian. Race, difference, and the power of single mothers really take centre stage in this brilliant narrative.
NB: This is my choice for the ‘Biracial MC’ square in the Diversity Bingo 2017.