Book Review: Born A Crime: Stories From A South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
If you aren't familiar with Trevor Noah, well, you are missing out. He is the brilliant comedian who took over The Daily Show (a comedy news show) when Jon Stewart retired in 2015. I remember the first time I saw him on The Daily Show I could not stop laughing at his straight forward comedic style. I looked up the clip on YouTube so you can watch it here if you want!
His memoir Born A Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood was published in 2016, so I'm a little late to the game on this one. The book has been on my radar since it came out, and it's one of the first books I put on hold when I figured out how to get library books on my Kindle last fall. Even all these years later it still has a 6 month waiting period to check out!
As soon as it landed on my Kindle I started reading and was immediately hooked on Noah's ability to write using humor, even as he told what were at times harrowing and heart-wrenching stories. He also did an excellent job weaving in the history and politics of South Africa and how things changed throughout his childhood and adolescence. He was, quite literally, born a crime - either of his parents could have gone to prison for up to 5 years had his existence been made known to the wrong people.
This book shows that Trevor Noah is far more than just a funny guy - he is whip-smart, can read people, and knows how to hustle. He can speak a crazy amount of languages (I forget exactly how many but I think around 6?) and he speaks about how he needed to do this - he had to be a chameleon so he could try to fit in wherever he went.
He talked a lot about language and culture - how it can both unite us with people and divide us. It's not often I remember a direct quote from a book but one from this has stuck with me (though I think Noah was quoting someone else when he said it): "Speak to a man in a language he understands, and you speak to his mind; speak to a man in his own language, and you speak to his heart."
Noah shared a lot of stories about his mother - a fierce, wonderful woman who faced the challenges in life head-on, and taught Noah to do the same. I found myself holding my breath at some of the stories he told - wondering if they would survive - even though I knew the outcome, that Noah is a very successful comedian now living in the USA.
My only critique of this book is a fault I find in many memoirs and is really just a pet-peeve. In almost every chapter some information is repeated from a previous chapter - reiterating why a town is named a certain way, or reintroducing a childhood friend, for example. It's as if each chapter was written to be a stand-alone story before they were put together into one book. I find it mildly annoying, but tolerable.
If you are familiar with Trevor Noah's comedy work, you definitely want to read this book so you can get to know him better. If you have no idea who he is, then you should read this book and go down the rabbit hole watching videos of him on YouTube. I promise it will all be worth your time!