Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood

by Trevor NoahYou probably know Trevor Noah from Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.  Trevor was a surprise pick to replace the indomitable Jon Stewart, but the South African comedian has slowly come into his own and as you read his new memoir, Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood, you might start to think perhaps Jon Stewart had a very good reason to pick Trevor as his successor.Noah’s story doesn’t begin with his birth.  It goes back much further than that, when the white South African government imposed the system known as apartheid on its inhabitants, hitting black South Africans the hardest with repercussions that continue to this day. Noah’s mother, Patricia, rebelled against apartheid as much as possible, becoming a secretary and then making the momentous decision to have a child.  But not just with anyone.  Patricia turned to a friend, Robert, who also just happened to be a white Swiss expat.  In South Africa at that time, it was not only illegal for Trevor’s parents to have a sexual relationship, it was punishable by several years in prison.  Trevor’s very existence was, in fact, evidence of a crime.Trevor describes his childhood in a series of eighteen essays, that cover everything from his mother’s insistence they attend three different churches on Sundays to his laughably inept attempts to woo girls in high school to the difficult and often turbulent relationship Trevor had with his abusive stepfather.  The essays are by turns funny, moving, and heartbreaking.  Throughout the essays, Trevor is careful to not only describe the effect apartheid had on his family and other black South Africans, but to multi-racial people labeled as “Colored,”  Trevor also points out the often arbitrary rules of apartheid that sometimes popped up seemingly overnight, with no other purpose than to further divide South Africa’s black and Colored peoples.  He even devotes several pages to how apartheid affected his father and other whites who disagreed with apartheid.If Trevor is the star of the show, his mother, Patricia, often steals the spotlight as his determined supporting actress.  If nothing else in the world, Patricia is often the voice of Trevor’s conscience and the force nudging him to reach for something better.The book is an easy read in terms of readability.  Trevor’s voice shines through the page, and he makes it sound like he’s sitting at a table in a coffee shop regaling his friends with the most meaningful moments of his childhood.  His language does get a bit salty at times, but it never comes off as gratuitous.  Another thing to keep in mind is the book doesn’t move in a straight line from Trevor’s birth to his early 20s.  I had a really hard time putting it down.  If you like memoirs, this is definitely one to read.