Book Review: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah is a South African comedian and I love his work. He makes fun of South Africa and its people – and yet the fun is not mean. Instead the snapshots he describes are so true, they are laughable. I had been eyeing his memoir in the bookstore and I finally bought it. I bought it for two reasons: firstly because he is an excellent comedian; and secondly he is South African born as I am.

Genre: Memoir, non-fiction


Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

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.

The eighteen personal essays collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.

My thoughts: 

I loved reading this book for so many reasons. Firstly his reflections on the past brought up so many memories of my own growing up and living in South Africa during the time period that he describes. Secondly, it was interesting to read of another person’s experience growing up in my Motherland near the end of Apartheid. Thirdly, I love Trevor Noah’s humour and his take on life and people – a humour that found its way into his writing. Fourthly, the memoir was well written and subtly exposed the many things that were wrong with the Apartheid system.

Born A Crime is a retelling of a childhood that keeps a person reading. The book is sprinkled with the laws of the system in South Africa, laws which affected the lifestyle of this comedian. The book has been written for a mainly non-South African audience so many of the social expectations, South Africanisms, and everyday experiences are explained. I read this book quickly, and discussed many of the issues highlighted at the diner table with my family. Now my husband is reading the memoir – and soon afterwards my daughters will too.

Trevor Noah’s memoir is a must-read if you enjoy this genre and are looking to understand the experience of a mixed-race child born during a time when it was a crime to mix intimately with other races.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐  5 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 63rd in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

10 thoughts on “Book Review: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

    1. As a South African you would enjoy it. My husband wonders if non-South Africans would get it as much as they would not get the nuances. He is currently reading it at the moment and he is chuckling quite a bit.

      Liked by 1 person

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