Review: Born a Crime

“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.”

Trevor Noah, host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, is the king of smart comedy. He can tell a joke while skewering every political party, cultural group, and line of thought, and it’s only later that you realize there was more than a grain of truth in what he said. I couldn’t wait to read this book because I knew it would be good, and Noah did not disappoint.

I listened to Born a Crime on Audible, and Noah narrates his own book. If you’re using audiobooks to add more books to your reading list, I highly recommend listening to this one. His narration adds a level of comprehension that just reading it alone would not.

If you go into this book not knowing much about Noah, you’re not alone: I didn’t either. There was so much talk about the book being amazing that I had to give it a try. Trevor Noah’s childhood in South Africa is fascinating, disturbing, and, frankly, funny. He also writes about racism in a way that will challenge everything you already know about it. (This would be a great companion to read alongside, or back to back with, Yaa Gyasi’s wonderful novel Homegoing.) Noah gets into it, into the South African version of race, racism, and racial hierarchy (which is really the world’s version), and doesn’t shy away from the squirmy bits. (The title alludes to Noah’s own race, a mix between his African mom and white European dad, which was actually a crime at one time.) There are some jaw-dropping moments, and you will wonder how certain things are still happening in any country.

Noah was a mischievous child, and I laughed out loud at many of his stories. I would read it for that alone, but his commentary on his own family, particularly his mom, was extremely compelling. She was definitely tough on him, but she had sound reasons for it, and he clearly loves and reveres her. One line from chapter 7 (in Audible) stuck with me, and please forgive me for not having written down the exact quote. Noah says that his mom had him so that she would have someone to love, and so that she would fit in with someone else because she didn’t fit in anywhere else. I think anyone from any background can relate to that: our family is our own little tribe, and we always expect at the end of the day that we will at least fit in at home. (Or we hope to, anyway.)

There’s a reason Born a Crime is consistently rated 5 stars on Amazon and Goodreads. It deserves that rating! This book will make you laugh, cry, want to make a change in the world, and petition Mr. Noah to write a follow-up. I cannot recommend this book enough, on paper or audio. Let me know what you think in the comments if you’ve read it!

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