Born A Crime

Born A Crime

Stories From A South African Childhood

Book - 2016
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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

Michiko Kakutani, New York Times * Newsday * Esquire * 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
Publisher: New York :, Spiegel & Grau,, [2016]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780399588174
Call Number: 791.4502 N661a
Characteristics: x, 288 pages ; 25 cm


From Library Staff

May 29th selection.

List - Ortega Book Club
SFPL_OrtegaLib Sep 03, 2015

Join us to discuss this book on December 16 at 11am.

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.

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.

From the critics

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Torliss Jan 15, 2018

I loved this book. When John Stewart left "The Daily Show" I wasn't sure I'd like his replacement. I only learned about Trevor Noah's life living under apartheid when I heard an interview with him on the radio. After reading "Born a Crime" I am in awe of this man. Funny and amazingly wise. He must have lived a hundred lives so far, and he isn't done yet! Being mixed race, he was neither fish nor fowl, and had nothing to identify with until....
Read the book. you won't be disappointed.

Dec 12, 2017

Excellent book well written.

LPL_ShirleyB Nov 27, 2017

To hear this author read his own candid & ironic words with fascinating insight & wit about culture and language, intense injustices and the absurdity of the social construct that is "race", what a fantastic audiobook!
Trevor Noah is a wise man, thanks to Patricia (his mom)! She abides no bounds, being black while living under apartheid. She is the embodiment of the aphorism: no one can oppress you without your permission.

Nov 26, 2017

I am a Trevor Noah fan and found this book a good portrayal of his character and was interested and shocked to learn about his early life.

Nov 18, 2017

This memoir recounts Trevor Noah's life up to his early twenties prior to "... becoming a comedian, touring the country, playing shows in England, hosting radio shows, hosting television shows." (p. 272) It is gritty, vulgar, and infused with human insight.

Rebecca_Kohn Nov 02, 2017

This is a tremendous memoir. I experienced it as an audio book, read by Trevor Noah. He is a citizen of the world, and a world class citizen. The fact that he has chosen comedy as a profession is testament to his gift to continue to embrace and appreciate humanity despite the violence and chaos he personally experienced growing up in South Africa.

Oct 28, 2017

I hope this book becomes as widely read as it deserves to be. Some of the insights about how humans can allow structures like apartheid to develop need to reach a wider audience. I also really appreciated the opportunity to learn about somebody whose childhood was so dramatically different from my own.

Unsurprisingly, Trevor Noah has a knack for telling stories in an amusing way - even if parts of some of them are actually quite horrifying if you were to step back and look at them objectively. There is no self pity whatsoever in this book (though he would certainly be entitled to it). He is very matter-of-fact about some things that were clearly his 'normal' at the time (even if they are clearly not his 'normal' anymore). He also offers interesting insights into black culture and colored culture that never would have occurred to me.

This book is very readable - full of snippets and anecdotes interspersed with brief observations about culture, human nature, etc.

Highly recommended.

Oct 16, 2017

This compelling memoir by Trevor Noah is a collection of stories from his childhood while growing up in South Africa during and after apartheid. These stories give insight into his personal life, as well as the culture and history of South Africa. Covering many serious issues - including racism, poverty, and abuse - Noah’s memoir is funny, insightful, and heartfelt.

Oct 09, 2017

I went from, "Trevor Noah? You mean that handsome guy who took over for Jon Stewart?," to "Oh my God, how is he alive and able to tell this story and still remain calm and witty?!" A mesmerizing story. I could not put it down.

Oct 02, 2017

How Noah can write about growing up under apartheid without anger, without demonizing the white people of South Africa, is beyond me. It takes little imagination to add in the details of the stresses his mother kept from him. Finding your place in a world where you are the only one of your kind is the main focus of this book. Very appropriate for teens of all colors, for adults, and for seniors who want to understand difference, struggle, and overcoming the insurmountable.

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Sep 21, 2017

green_turtle_2159 thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over

Apr 04, 2017

wrtrchk thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over


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Nov 18, 2017

"In the [neighbour]hood, even if you're not a hardcore criminal, crime is in your life in some way or another. There are degrees of it. ... The hood made me realized that crime succeeds because crime does the one thing the government doesn't do: crime cares. Crime is grassroots. Crime looks for the young kids who need support and a lifting hand. Crime offers internship programs and summer jobs and opportunities for advancement. Crime gets involved in the community. Crime doesn't discriminate." (p. 209)

Feb 21, 2017

The genius of apartheid was convincing people who were the overwhelming majority to turn on each other. Apart hate is what it was. You separate people into groups and make them hate one another so you can run them all.


Add a Summary

Feb 21, 2017

When Trevor Noah was born in South Africa in 1984, his existence was literally illegal, proof that his black, Xhosa mother and his white, Swiss-German father had violated the Immorality Act of 1927, one of the many laws defining the system known as apartheid. The crime carried a punishment of four to five years in prison, and mixed race children were often seized and placed in state-run orphanages. But Noah’s mother was determined and clever, and she managed to hold onto her son, refusing to flee her home country in order to raise him. But it made his childhood complicated, even after apartheid officially ended in 1994. Racial hierarchies and inequities persisted, and despite receiving a good education, his upbringing was anything but easy. In a series of essays, Born a Crime chronicles Noah’s experience growing up under apartheid and its aftermath.


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