“I was nine years old when my mother threw me out of a moving car.” Trevor Noah‘s bestselling memoir Born a Crime starts with a bang. But if you think that this is the most extreme thing Trevor experienced during his tumultuous childhood in South Africa, I’m afraid he’ll prove you wrong.

Most people will know Trevor Noah as the witty host of The Daily Show. In his bestselling memoir Born a Crime, he looks back on his childhood confined by the absurdities of apartheid, his troubled years at school amidst the turmoil of post-apartheid, and his budding success as a teenage hustler selling pirated CDs and DJing at parties.

Trevor was born in Johannesburg in 1984, roughly 6 years before the walls of apartheid came slowly crumbling down (Nelson Mandela was freed from prison in 1990). He was literally born a crime because his black African mother had conceived a child with a white Swiss-German, which was illegal at the time: Under apartheid legislation, interracial relationship was punishable by up to five years in prison.

As living proof of his parents’ crime, Trevor had to spend most of his early childhood indoors because the government could, at any moment, steal him away. If he was allowed to leave the house, he had to walk with a coloured nanny or stay an arm’s length away from his parents. Trevor remembers that if he was outside with his father, “he’d have to walk across the street from [him].” If he was alone with his mother, “she would hold [his] hand or carry [him], but if the police showed up she would have to drop [him] and pretend [he] wasn’t hers.” Such were the absurdities of apartheid.

“On February 20, 1984, my mother checked into Hillbrow Hospital for a scheduled C-section delivery. … The doctors took her up to the delivery room, cut open her belly, and reached in and pulled out a half-white, half-black child who violated any number of laws, statutes, and regulations—I was born a crime.”

Yet, his fierce, independent and deeply religious mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah, did everything to raise her son to know that he could accomplish everything he wanted, no matter what obstacles are in his way. She taught him to always question things and never take anything for granted. She made sure that English was the first language he spoke because she knew of the power of language. But most importantly, she showed him what unconditional love meant. Trevor’s admiration for her shines through on every page and it is truly heartwarming to follow their relationship. Without her strength and determination, he certainly wouldn’t have become the man he is today.

“Neighbors and relatives used to pester my mom: ‘Why do this? Why show him the world when he’s never going to leave the ghetto?’

‘Because,’ she would say, ‘even if he never leaves the ghetto, he will know that the ghetto is not the world. If that is all I accomplish, I’ve done enough.’”

By turns touching and funny, Born a Crime is both a personal tale and an exploration of race and identity in late-, and post-apartheid South Africa. It addresses serious issues of racism, poverty and violence with a lot of insight and dark humour. I have to warn you that it’s written in such an engaging way that you’ll find yourself thinking “just one more essay” until suddenly you’ve reached the last page of the book. You don’t have to be a fan of Trevor to love this book. Fully recommended!

Have you read Born a Crime? How did you like it? Let me know in the comment section below!


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4 thoughts on “A Memoir of Love and Resilience: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

  1. I love this post, you’ve made me want to reread the book right now! I listened to Born a Crime as an audiobook last year and hearing Trevor Noah do all the different accents made the humour even more enjoyable 😄

    Liked by 1 person

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