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Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
     

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

4.6 19
by Trevor Noah
 

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#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
Michiko Kakutani, New York TimesNewsday

Overview

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
Michiko Kakutani, New York TimesNewsdayEsquire • NPR • Booklist

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 stories 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.

Praise for Born a Crime

 “[A] compelling new memoir . . . By turns alarming, sad and funny, [Trevor Noah’s] book provides a harrowing look, through the prism of Mr. Noah’s family, at life in South Africa under apartheid. . . . Born a Crime is not just an unnerving account of growing up in South Africa under apartheid, but a love letter to the author’s remarkable mother.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“[An] unforgettable memoir.”Parade

 “What makes Born a Crime such a soul-nourishing pleasure, even with all its darker edges and perilous turns, is reading Noah recount in brisk, warmly conversational prose how he learned to negotiate his way through the bullying and ostracism. . . . What also helped was having a mother like Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah. . . . Consider Born a Crime another such gift to her—and an enormous gift to the rest of us.”—USA Today

“[Noah] thrives with the help of his astonishingly fearless mother. . . . Their fierce bond makes this story soar.”—People

“[Noah’s] electrifying memoir sparkles with funny stories . . . and his candid and compassionate essays deepen our perception of the complexities of race, gender, and class.”Booklist (starred review)

“A gritty memoir . . . studded with insight and provocative social criticism . . . with flashes of brilliant storytelling and acute observations.”Kirkus Reviews

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review

It remains to be seen whether Daily Show host Trevor Noah, the South African comic unexpectedly tapped in 2015 to replace the revered Jon Stewart, will prove adept at wringing satirical humor out of a reality that feels to many like dark satire. While during his early months in the hosting chair some complained that, as an outsider, Noah didn't evince Stewart's impassioned outrage at American political culture, his memoir, the rollicking yet tender Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, provides solid indication that Noah's is a necessary voice for these times.

In addition to that, it's a great read. The book comprises eighteen autobiographical chapters, each prefaced by a short piece explaining a relevant element of South Africa's history of apartheid. Many of the chapters center on his relationship with his fearless and devout black Xhosa mother, who risked a prison term of up to five years by having a child with Noah's white father, a Swiss expat. Noah was indeed "born a crime," and for the first five years of his life, until apartheid fell, he was mostly kept indoors, whether with his mother in her Johannesburg apartment or with his maternal grandmother in her Soweto township, to minimize the risk that the government would take him away.

"We had a very Tom and Jerry relationship, me and my mom," writes Noah, a vivid storyteller who fondly recalls epic chases through the neighborhood as his mother sought to punish him for all manner of mischief and as he sought to escape a beating. As he grew fast enough to outrun her, she took to yelling "thief" to get bystanders involved in the pursuit. "In South Africa, nobody gets involved in other people's business, unless it's mob justice, and then everybody wants in," Noah quips. His writing about his mother is loving and bighearted, especially as she becomes involved in an abusive relationship that culminates in a truly shocking outburst of violence that Noah's mother, miraculously, survives.

Throughout the memoir, Noah slyly illuminates the absurdities of a society built on racial hierarchy. When the light-skinned child was with his mother's extended family in the township, he was treated as white. Though he was the least well behaved of all the children, he was never beaten by his grandmother as his cousins were. "A black child, you hit them and they stay black," she told his mother. "Trevor, when you hit him he turns blue and green and yellow and red. I've never seen those colors before. I'm scared I'm going to break him. I don't want to kill a white person." While he's somewhat abashed to admit it now, Noah reveled in his special treatment. "My own family basically did what the American justice system does: I was given more lenient treatment than the black kids," he reports. "Growing up the way I did, I learned how easy it is for white people to get comfortable with a system that awards them all the perks."

But when Noah's mother, who worked as a secretary, was eventually able to buy a home in the suburbs, Noah went from being "the only white kid in the black township" to being "the only black kid in the white suburb." And although biracial, he was excluded from South Africa's mixed-race "colored" population, an ethnic group that traces its history back to the seventeenth century, to the sexual unions of Dutch colonists and African natives. He didn't quite belong anywhere, and growing up, he had few friends.

The book, focusing on Noah's boyhood, doesn't describe his decision to pursue comedy, but one can imagine that a childhood spent as a perpetual outsider, observing group dynamics to determine where he might fit in, has served Noah well in his chosen profession. There were so many times, he recalls, when he "had to be a chameleon, navigate between groups, explain who I was." He survived it (and writes about it) well; expect him, in the coming months and years, to help explain us to ourselves.

Barbara Spindel has covered books for Time Out New York, Newsweek.com, Details, and Spin. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies.

Reviewer: Barbara Spindel

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
…compelling…By turns alarming, sad and funny, [the] book provides a harrowing look, through the prism of Mr. Noah's family, at life in South Africa under apartheid and the country's lurching entry into a postapartheid era in the 1990s. Some stories will be familiar to fans who have followed the author's stand-up act. But his accounts here are less the polished anecdotes of a comedian underscoring the absurdities of life under apartheid, than raw, deeply personal reminiscences about being "half-white, half-black" in a country where his birth "violated any number of laws, statutes and regulations"…In the end, Born a Crime is not just an unnerving account of growing up in South Africa under apartheid, but a love letter to the author's remarkable mother…
Publishers Weekly
★ 10/31/2016
Having thoroughly mined his South African upbringing in his standup comedy and monologues on The Daily Show, Noah here tells the whole story in this witty and revealing autobiography. Born to a black African mother and a white Swedish father, Noah violated the Immorality Act of 1927, which outlawed interracial relationships. Though apartheid ended a decade after Noah’s birth, its legacy lived on in the country’s nigh-inescapable ghettos and perpetual racial conflicts, continuing to affect his life as he came of age. Noah’s story is the story of modern South Africa; though he enjoyed some privileges of the region’s slow Westernization, his formative years were shaped by poverty, injustice, and violence. Noah is quick with a disarming joke, and he skillfully integrates the parallel narratives via interstitial asides between chapters to explain the finer details of African culture and history for the uninformed. Perhaps the most harrowing tales are those of his abusive stepfather, which form the book’s final act (and which Noah cleverly foreshadows throughout earlier chapters), but equally prominent are the laugh-out-loud yarns about going to the prom, and the differences between “White Church” and “Black Church.” (Nov.)
Library Journal
06/15/2016
The Emmy and Peabody Award-winning host of the Daily Show, Noah was indeed "born a crime" in apartheid South Africa. He was the son of a white Dutch father and a black Xhosa mother who pretended to be his nanny or his father's servant when they were together as a family. Here he relates his rise to fame and his sometimes over-the-top mother's influence.
Kirkus Reviews
2016-09-22
The host of The Daily Show reflects on his tumultuous South African childhood.In a gritty memoir, Noah relates his harsh experiences growing up during the final years of apartheid and the chaotic and racially charged conflicts that would continue to undermine the newly won freedom that was established in its aftermath. His story unfolds through a series of loosely assembled essays that touch on his home life and school environment and later expand outward to various cities and neighborhoods and his encounters with petty crime and confrontations with domestic violence. Throughout, the author documents the evolving yet continually challenging race relations among blacks, whites, and coloreds. Noah was born the son of a white Swiss-German father and a devoutly Christian black Xhosa mother who purposely chose to have a child through a mixed relationship, with full understanding of the legal ramifications established under the Immorality Act of 1927, which banned illicit carnal relations between a native woman and a European male. Noahs mother proved to be the dominant, remarkable force throughout his life, constantly striving to instill deep values of education, religion, and freedom as she struggled with her own desire for independence. Perhaps even more amazing is the fact that my mother started her little project, me, at a time when she could not have known that apartheid would end, writes the author. There was no reason to think it would end; it had seen generations come and go. I was nearly six when Mandela was released, ten before democracy finally came, yet she was preparing me to live a life of freedom long before we knew freedom would exist. On the whole, though studded with insight and provocative social criticism, Noahs material doesnt feel fully digested. As an accomplished adult humorist looking back to his childhood self, the attempt to inject a humorous tone into these grim proceedings frequently hits an awkward note. A somewhat disjointed narrative with flashes of brilliant storytelling and acute observations on South African culture.
From the Publisher
“[A] compelling new memoir . . . By turns alarming, sad and funny, [Trevor Noah’s] book provides a harrowing look, through the prism of Mr. Noah’s family, at life in South Africa under apartheid. . . . In the end, Born a Crime is not just an unnerving account of growing up in South Africa under apartheid, but a love letter to the author’s remarkable mother.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“[An] unforgettable memoir.”Parade

“You’d be hard-pressed to find a comic’s origin story better than the one Trevor Noah serves up in Born a Crime. . . . [He] developed his aptitude for witty truth telling [and]…every hardscrabble memory of helping his mother scrape together money for food, gas, school fees, and rent, or barely surviving the temper of his stepfather, Abel, reveals the anxious wellsprings of the comedian’s ambition and success. If there is harvest in spite of blight, the saying goes, one does not credit the blight-but Noah does manage to wring brilliant comedy from it.”O: The Oprah Magazine
 
“What makes Born a Crime such a soul-nourishing pleasure, even with all its darker edges and perilous turns, is reading Noah recount in brisk, warmly conversational prose how he learned to negotiate his way through the bullying and ostracism. . . . What also helped was having a mother like Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah. . . . Consider Born a Crime another such gift to her—and an enormous gift to the rest of us.”—USA Today

“[Noah] thrives with the help of his astonishingly fearless mother. . . . Their fierce bond makes this story soar.”—People

“This isn't your average comic-writes-a-memoir: It’s a unique look at a man who is a product of his culture—and a nuanced look at a part of the world whose people have known dark times easily pushed aside.”—Refinery29

“Noah’s memoir is extraordinary . . . essential reading on every level. It’s hard to imagine anyone else doing a finer job of it.”The Seattle Times

“Powerful prose . . . told through stories and vignettes that are sharply observed, deftly conveyed and consistently candid. Growing organically from them is an affecting investigation of identity, ethnicity, language, masculinity, nationality and, most of all, humanity—all issues that the election of Donald Trump in the United States shows are foremost in minds and hearts everywhere. . . . What the reader gleans are the insights that made Noah the thoughtful, observant, empathic man who wrote Born a Crime. . . . Here is a level-headed man, forged by remarkable and shocking life incidents, who is quietly determined and who knows where home and the heart lie. Would this unique story have been published had it been about someone not a celebrity of the planet? Possibly not, and to the detriment of potential readers, because this is a warm and very human story of the type that we will need to survive the Trump presidency’s imminent freezing of humane values.”Mail & Guardian (South Africa)

“[Noah’s] story of surviving—and thriving—is mind-blowing.”Cosmopolitan

“A gifted storyteller, able to deftly lace his poignant tales with amusing irony.”Entertainment Weekly

“Noah has a real tale to tell, and he tells it well. . . . Among the many virtues of Born a Crime is a frank and telling portrait of life in South Africa during the 1980s and ’90s. . . . Born a Crime offers Americans a second introduction to Trevor Noah, and he makes a real impression.”Newsday

“An affecting memoir, Born a Crime [is] a love letter to his mother.”The Washington Post

“Witty and revealing . . . Noah’s story is the story of modern South Africa; though he enjoyed some privileges of the region’s slow Westernization, his formative years were shaped by poverty, injustice, and violence. Noah is quick with a disarming joke, and he skillfully integrates the parallel narratives via interstitial asides between chapters. . . . Perhaps the most harrowing tales are those of his abusive stepfather, which form the book’s final act (and which Noah cleverly foreshadows throughout earlier chapters), but equally prominent are the laugh-out-loud yarns about going to the prom, and the differences between ‘White Church’ and ‘Black Church.’”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“[A] substantial collection of staggering personal essays . . . Incisive, funny, and vivid, these true tales are anchored to his portrait of his courageous, rebellious, and religious mother who defied racially restrictive laws to secure an education and a career for herself—and to have a child with a white Swiss/German even though sex between whites and blacks was illegal. . . . [Trevor Noah’s] electrifying memoir sparkles with funny stories . . . and his candid and compassionate essays deepen our perception of the complexities of race, gender, and class.”Booklist (starred review)

“A gritty memoir . . . studded with insight and provocative social criticism . . . with flashes of brilliant storytelling and acute observations.”Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780399588174
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
11/15/2016
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
668
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

1

Run

Sometimes in big Hollywood movies they’ll have these crazy chase scenes where somebody jumps or gets thrown from a moving car. The person hits the ground and rolls for a bit. Then they come to a stop and pop up and dust themselves off, like it was no big deal. Whenever I see that I think, That’s rubbish. Getting thrown out of a moving car hurts way worse than that.

I was nine years old when my mother threw me out of a moving car. It happened on a Sunday. I know it was on a Sunday because we were coming home from church, and every Sunday in my childhood meant church. We never missed church. My mother was—­and still is—­ a deeply religious woman. Very Christian. Like indigenous peoples around the world, black South Africans adopted the religion of our colonizers. By “adopt” I mean it was forced on us. The white man was quite stern with the native. “You need to pray to Jesus,” he said. “Jesus will save you.” To which the native replied, “Well, we do need to be saved—­saved from you, but that’s beside the point. So let’s give this Jesus thing a shot.”

My whole family is religious, but where my mother was Team Jesus all the way, my grandmother balanced her Christian faith with the traditional Xhosa beliefs she’d grown up with, communicating with the spirits of our ancestors. For a long time I didn’t understand why so many black people had abandoned their indigenous faith for Christianity. But the more we went to church and the longer I sat in those pews the more I learned about how Christianity works: If you’re Native American and you pray to the wolves, you’re a savage. If you’re African and you pray to your ancestors, you’re a primitive. But when white people pray to a guy who turns water into wine, well, that’s just common sense.

My childhood involved church, or some form of church, at least four nights a week. Tuesday night was the prayer meeting. Wednesday night was Bible study. Thursday night was Youth church. Friday and Saturday we had off. (Time to sin!) Then on Sunday we went to church. Three churches, to be precise. The reason we went to three churches was because my mom said each church gave her something different. The first church offered jubilant praise of the Lord. The second church offered deep analysis of the scripture, which my mom loved. The third church offered passion and catharsis; it was a place where you truly felt the presence of the Holy Spirit inside you. Completely by coincidence, as we moved back and forth among these churches, I noticed that each one had its own distinct racial makeup: Jubilant church was mixed church. Analytical church was white church. And passionate, cathartic church, that was black church.

Mixed church was Rhema Bible Church. Rhema was one of those huge, super­modern, suburban megachurches. The pastor, Ray McCauley, was an ex-bodybuilder with a big smile and the personality of a cheerleader. Pastor Ray had competed in the 1974 Mr. Universe competition. He placed third. The winner that year was Arnold Schwarzenegger. Every week, Ray would be up onstage working really hard to make Jesus cool. There was arena-­style seating and a rock band jamming out with the latest Christian contemporary pop. Everyone sang along, and if you didn’t know the words that was okay because they were all right up there on the Jumbotron for you. It was Christian karaoke, basically. I always had a blast at mixed church.

White church was Rosebank Union in Sandton, a very white and wealthy part of Johannesburg. I loved white church because I didn’t actually have to go to the main service. My mom would go to that, and I would go to the youth side, to Sunday school. In Sunday school we got to read cool stories. Noah and the flood was obviously a favorite; I had a personal stake there. But I also loved the stories about Moses parting the Red Sea, David slaying Goliath, Jesus whipping the money changers in the temple.

I grew up in a home with very little exposure to popular culture. Boyz II Men were not allowed in my mother’s house. Songs about some guy grinding on a girl all night long? No, no, no. That was forbidden. I’d hear the other kids at school singing “End of the Road,” and I’d have no clue what was going on. I knew of these Boyz II Men, but I didn’t really know who they were. The only music I knew was from church: soaring, uplifting songs praising Jesus. It was the same with movies. My mom didn’t want my mind polluted by movies with sex and violence. So the Bible was my action movie. Samson was my superhero. He was my He-­Man. A guy beating a thousand people to death with the jawbone of a donkey? That’s pretty badass. Eventually you get to Paul writing letters to the Ephesians and it loses the plot, but the Old Testament and the Gospels? I could quote you anything from those pages, chapter and verse. There were Bible games and quizzes every week at white church, and I kicked everyone’s ass.

Then there was black church. There was always some kind of black church service going on somewhere, and we tried them all. In the township, that typically meant an outdoor, tent-­revival-­style church. We usually went to my grandmother’s church, an old-­school Methodist congregation, five hundred African grannies in blue-­and-­white blouses, clutching their Bibles and patiently burning in the hot African sun. Black church was rough, I won’t lie. No air-­conditioning. No lyrics up on Jumbotrons. And it lasted forever, three or four hours at least, which confused me because white church was only like an hour—­in and out, thanks for coming. But at black church I would sit there for what felt like an eternity, trying to figure out why time moved so slowly. Is it possible for time to actually stop? If so, why does it stop at black church and not at white church? I eventually decided black people needed more time with Jesus because we suffered more. “I’m here to fill up on my blessings for the week,” my mother used to say. The more time we spent at church, she reckoned, the more blessings we accrued, like a Starbucks Rewards Card.

Black church had one saving grace. If I could make it to the third or fourth hour I’d get to watch the pastor cast demons out of people. People possessed by demons would start running up and down the aisles like madmen, screaming in tongues. The ushers would tackle them, like bouncers at a club, and hold them down for the pastor. The pastor would grab their heads and violently shake them back and forth, shouting, “I cast out this spirit in the name of Jesus!” Some pastors were more violent than others, but what they all shared in common was that they wouldn’t stop until the demon was gone and the congregant had gone limp and collapsed on the stage. The person had to fall. Because if he didn’t fall that meant the demon was powerful and the pastor needed to come at him even harder. You could be a linebacker in the NFL. Didn’t matter. That pastor was taking you down. Good Lord, that was fun.

Christian karaoke, badass action stories, and violent faith healers—­man, I loved church. The thing I didn’t love was the lengths we had to go to in order to get to church. It was an epic slog. We lived in Eden Park, a tiny suburb way outside Johannesburg. It took us an hour to get to white church, another forty-­five minutes to get to mixed church, and another forty-­five minutes to drive out to Soweto for black church. Then, if that weren’t bad enough, some Sundays we’d double back to white church for a special evening service. By the time we finally got home at night, I’d collapse into bed.

This particular Sunday, the Sunday I was hurled from a moving car, started out like any other Sunday. My mother woke me up, made me porridge for breakfast. I took my bath while she dressed my baby brother Andrew, who was nine months old. Then we went out to the driveway, but once we were finally all strapped in and ready to go, the car wouldn’t start. My mom had this ancient, broken-­down, bright-­tangerine Volkswagen Beetle that she picked up for next to nothing. The reason she got it for next to nothing was because it was always breaking down. To this day I hate secondhand cars. Almost everything that’s ever gone wrong in my life I can trace back to a secondhand car. Secondhand cars made me get detention for being late for school. Secondhand cars left us hitchhiking on the side of the freeway. A secondhand car was also the reason my mom got married. If it hadn’t been for the Volkswagen that didn’t work, we never would have looked for the mechanic who became the husband who became the stepfather who became the man who tortured us for years and put a bullet in the back of my mother’s head—­I’ll take the new car with the warranty every time.

As much as I loved church, the idea of a nine-­hour slog, from mixed church to white church to black church then doubling back to white church again, was just too much to contemplate. It was bad enough in a car, but taking public transport would be twice as long and twice as hard. When the Volkswagen refused to start, inside my head I was praying, Please say we’ll just stay home. Please say we’ll just stay home. Then I glanced over to see the determined look on my mother’s face, her jaw set, and I knew I had a long day ahead of me.

“Come,” she said. “We’re going to catch minibuses.”

My mother is as stubborn as she is religious. Once her mind’s made up, that’s it. Indeed, obstacles that would normally lead a person to change their plans, like a car breaking down, only made her more determined to forge ahead.

“It’s the Devil,” she said about the stalled car. “The Devil doesn’t want us to go to church. That’s why we’ve got to catch minibuses.”

Whenever I found myself up against my mother’s faith-­based obstinacy, I would try, as respectfully as possible, to counter with an opposing point of view.

“Or,” I said, “the Lord knows that today we shouldn’t go to church, which is why he made sure the car wouldn’t start, so that we stay at home as a family and take a day of rest, because even the Lord rested.”

“Ah, that’s the Devil talking, Trevor.”

“No, because Jesus is in control, and if Jesus is in control and we pray to Jesus, he would let the car start, but he hasn’t, therefore—­”

“No, Trevor! Sometimes Jesus puts obstacles in your way to see if you overcome them. Like Job. This could be a test.”

“Ah! Yes, Mom. But the test could be to see if we’re willing to accept what has happened and stay at home and praise Jesus for his wisdom.”

“No. That’s the Devil talking. Now go change your clothes.”

“But Mom!”

“Trevor! Sun’qhela!”

Sun’qhela is a phrase with many shades of meaning. It says “don’t undermine me,” “don’t underestimate me,” and “just try me.” It’s a command and a threat, all at once. It’s a common thing for Xhosa parents to say to their kids. Any time I heard it I knew it meant the conversation was over, and if I uttered another word I was in for a hiding—­what we call a spanking.

At the time I attended a private Catholic school known as Maryvale College. I was the champion of the Maryvale sports day every single year, and my mother won the moms’ trophy every single year. Why? Because she was always chasing me to kick my ass, and I was always running not to get my ass kicked. Nobody ran like me and my mom. She wasn’t one of those “Come over here and get your hiding” type moms. She’d deliver it to you free of charge. She was a thrower, too. Whatever was next to her was coming at you. If it was something breakable, I had to catch it and put it down. If it broke, that would be my fault, too, and the ass-­kicking would be that much worse. If she threw a vase at me, I’d have to catch it, put it down, and then run. In a split second, I’d have to think, Is it valuable? Yes. Is it breakable? Yes. Catch it, put it down, now run.

We had a very Tom and Jerry relationship, me and my mom. She was the strict disciplinarian; I was naughty as shit. She would send me out to buy groceries, and I wouldn’t come right home because I’d be using the change from the milk and bread to play arcade games at the supermarket. I loved videogames. I was a master at Street Fighter. I could go forever on a single play. I’d drop a coin in, time would fly, and the next thing I knew there’d be a woman behind me with a belt. It was a race. I’d take off out the door and through the dusty streets of Eden Park, clambering over walls, ducking through backyards. It was a normal thing in our neighborhood. Everybody knew: that Trevor child would come through like a bat out of hell, and his mom would be right there behind him. She could go at a full sprint in high heels, but if she really wanted to come after me she had this thing where she’d kick her shoes off while still going at top speed. She’d do this weird move with her ankles and the heels would go flying and she wouldn’t even miss a step. That’s when I knew, Okay, she’s in turbo mode now.

When I was little she always caught me, but as I got older I got faster, and when speed failed her she’d use her wits. If I was about to get away she’d yell, “Stop! Thief!” She’d do this to her own child. In South Africa, nobody gets involved in other people’s business—unless it’s mob justice, and then everybody wants in. So she’d yell “Thief!” knowing it would bring the whole neighborhood out against me, and then I’d have strangers trying to grab me and tackle me, and I’d have to duck and dive and dodge them as well, all the while screaming, “I’m not a thief! I’m her son!”

The last thing I wanted to do that Sunday morning was climb into some crowded minibus, but the second I heard my mom say sun’qhela I knew my fate was sealed. She gathered up Andrew and we climbed out of the Volkswagen and went out to try to catch a ride.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Trevor Noah is a comedian from South Africa.

From the eBook edition.

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Born a Crime 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Anonymous 8 months ago
Gave me a real, non-textbook understanding of apartheid. And perfectly timed as we enter a new political era. I highly recommend this book.
Anonymous 7 months ago
It reads quickly and delivers an emotional punch. An illuminating first person account of growing up half black and half white under apartheid and during its aftermath.
Anonymous 6 months ago
To see Trevor on The Daily Show you would never expect this to have been his lived experience. He eloquently shares his world views on the show and having this background knowledge pf what he lived helps to narrate the global view he holds.
Anonymous 6 months ago
Couldn't put it down. A window into life in South Africa. Tells it like it is. At times funny and sad, always entertaining and thought provoking. A must read.
Anonymous 4 months ago
Congrats to Trevor - I couldn't put this read down!
Anonymous 28 days ago
I really enjoy reading the book
Anonymous 13 days ago
Thid is the best book I've read in a long time!
Melissa_Mellati 7 months ago
I have been recommending this book to everyone I know! Funny, heart-warming, and informative. Although this is a story about apartheid, it is also a story about growing up and what it's like to never quite fit in and perhaps most notably, it is a story about the love that exists between a mother and her child. This is the perfect read if you're looking to have a few laughs and learn something new about a different culture.
MontzieW 8 months ago
Born a Crime Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah is such an interesting look into the life of a talented young man. I am a big fan of Trevor and watched his special on Netflix where he speaks of his life growing up but this goes into so much detail, it is stunning all that this guy goes through and is not a bitter man. He describes the horrible laws and society he is born into and the way he is looked at in his society. How he tries to see himself. His life in poverty, with a very religious mother, an abusive step father, his struggles to find himself and diligent acts, his family, the horrible times in his life and the good times in his life. Through it all, he keeps his humor and love alive and shares it with us in this wonderful book. There is so much in here and he tells it so well. He has a good heart and it comes out in this book. He is not jaded by his past but seems to be inspired to be better because of it. Great job Trevor, we love you! Thanks NetGalley for allowing me to read this wonderful, touching book!
BooksnKisses 3 days ago
NUMBER OF HEARTS: 4 This was a very enjoyable book. I really enjoyed having Trevor read this to me also. There is no way I would have ever been able to pronounce the African languages. This is just a wonderful love story to his mother. Trevor’s mom is a freaking rock star. I can’t even imagine my child being a naughty as him. My favorite part of this book is the magnifying glass and the matches. I laughed so hard (kinda felt bad about it too). Born a Crime is a wild right of emotional highs and lows that makes you look at the life you have and be thankful all the potholes that you hit. Because they are just that. A bum in the road. Even if you get a flat you find a way to keep going. Now I don’t think I will try my hand at jumping out of a moving car. But you know sometimes you just have to do it. If you are looking for a good read you should think about picking up a copy of this book or better yet grab the audio book. Disclaimer: I purchased this audiobook and this review is my own opinion and not a paid review.
Drewano 23 days ago
‘Born a Crime’ is an interesting set of stories which tells of life in both apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa. The tales are sometimes funny, sometimes sad but always enlightening, it shines a light on this world many people didn’t know about (I certainly didn’t). It’s well written and interesting from start to finish.
Anonymous 26 days ago
Listened to Trevor Noah read about his growing up and it is now in my top 5 of audible books. I enjoy listening to him on The Daily Show and now I have a whole new respect for him and the many varied young lives growing up in this world. LOVED this book and thank him for writing it. We all need to try to understand each other and our experiences before we judge.
dreplogle 3 months ago
This was an amazing read. If you only know Mr. Noah from his Daily Show or comedic appearances you will see a whole other side of him here. He's still witty and intelligent but this is his recounting of his childhood living under apartheid, and after apartheid, in South Africa with his mother. According to apartheid law and being the child of a white father and black mother, he actually was born a crime. American racism must seem like such a simple construct after what he and his mother lived through. And not only the racism, but the violence and poverty caused by that racism. Imagine walking to school and seeing a burned corpse on the side of the street, and not thinking it was particularly out of place. The domestic violence his mother endured from his stepfather because the local police did not want to deal with it, and took the side of Noah's step-father who ultimately ends up shooting his mother through the head. And yet, what comes through is the strength and love his mother gives him at all times. This is a biography I'm going to remember for a long time. 1 like
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S_Hampton 8 months ago
I really enjoyed this book. It was a quick read that made me laugh and cry.
Anonymous 8 months ago
As a fan of Trevor, this book is everything I asked for and more...work of art
singmeasongPinoy 8 months ago
great book
Anonymous 8 months ago
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