Book Review

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood

Warnings: Racism, Violence, Domestic Abuse

My Thoughts

For those that don’t already know who Trevor Noah is, he is a comedian from South Africa that is now the current host of The Daily Show, taking the place of Jon Stewart when he retired. Trevor is an accomplished polyglot, speaking 9 languages fluently and has some fluency in several more. In much of his comedy, he talks about his difficulties with racial identity having been born during apartheid to an African mother and a Swiss father. Apartheid was a system of institutionalized segregation in South Africa that lasted from the 1940s to the 1990s.

The book is bursting at the seams with humorous anecdotes about growing up as the wild child in his family. Getting in trouble, trying to outrun and outsmart his mom, committing petty crimes with friends, striking out with girls; Trevor’s life was colorful in no small part because of his mother. In interviews, Trevor has stated that his memoir became an open love letter to his mother, Patricia Noah–a fiercely independent woman that refused to be held down by her race or gender and sought to show her son the world outside of apartheid South Africa, who tried to save her son from the cruelty of the world.

The last chapters had me sobbing which was something that I hadn’t anticipated. Trevor mentions his step-father in the early chapters in passing, like a dark cloud that hung over his family’s life. I wasn’t prepared for the deeply troubling and heartbreaking portrait of a loving family ripped apart by abuse and the failures of law enforcement to prevent tragedy despite numerous attempts to get help.

I was already a fan of Trevor Noah, having watched some of his stand-up comedy, and was overjoyed when he took over The Daily Show. From this memoir I have a newfound respect for Trevor not only for the horrendous abuse and racism he has endured but how he allowed these things to shape who he is. He approaches issues of race, identity, poverty, and abuse with honesty and was able to articulate his feelings on topics that I have been struggling with for years. This memoir was surprisingly cathartic to me as someone that has struggled both with a mixed racial background and as a survivor of domestic abuse.

This was a wonderful memoir that really showcased that even in the darkest of places one can still find hope and strength in love. It was both insightful and laugh-out-loud funny, even if some of the humor could be viewed as highly offensive. I really enjoyed this memoir and am happy that I read it, it’s definitely going down on my shelf as a favorite.

“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.”


I’m a Filipino American blogger, historian, and lazy writer. I enjoy books, video games, anime/manga, and smoking hookah.

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