Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

by Trevor Noah

Hardcover, 2016

Call number




Spiegel & Grau (2016), Edition: Later Printing Used, 304 pages


#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 followedNAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BYMichiko Kakutani, New York Times - Newsday - Esquire - NPR - BooklistTrevor 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… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Berly
Hands down, one of my favorite reads in years. Trevor narrates his own book, filled with stories from his childhood growing up in South Africa. I can't imagine reading this book in print, the audio was just so amazing. He brings to life an array of characters with such honesty, love and humor, I just wanted to run errands so I could get in my car and listen some more! I loved hearing all the different African languages (he is fluent in several) and I learned so much about Africa's culture during apartheid. I had no idea that it wasn't just blacks and whites, but blacks, whites and coloreds. Or that a colored child could not be caught with his white parent or they would risk jail time. Or that Japanese and Chinese and Indian were lumped into one of these three categories based on how in favor they were (trade opportunities, etc) at the time. Trevor reveals all the intricacies of growing up a mixed race child, and the difficult changing politics of Africa, but fills your heart with his never-ending stories and sense of humor. I am not doing this book justice. It was amazing!!… (more)
LibraryThing member Cariola
I don't often read or listen to biographies, and when I do, they are more likely to be of historical figures than of contemporary celebrities. But I was curious to learn more about Trevor Noah, who replaced the much-beloved Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show. I knew that he was born to an interracial couple when South Africa was still under apartheid--hence his title, "Born a Crime." But I knew little more about him or, in fact, much about apartheid beyond the basics. I learned a lot about both in listening to this book. Since Trevor is still quite a young man, the thrust of the book is the effects of apartheid on a biracial child and teenager. For one thing, the young Trevor never quite knew where he fit in. He was too white to be black, too black to be white, and uncomfortable in the category "colored." During his childhood, there was not only conflicts between the two races but also between the various tribes. He tells one story of his mother, walking home from church with he and his baby brother, being harassed by a white man. Seeing a minicab with a black driver, she jumped in with the children, feeling that they would be safe; but the driver was a member of the opposing tribe and threatened to kill them. Patricia, who comes across as a strong, brave, no- nonsense woman and the single most positive force in Trevor's life, made a dangerous decision that likely saved them all. This is not an isolated story: similar episodes occur throughout the book. Some of them are particularly sad, such as Trevor being in a park and calling after his white father as the man ran from him, in fear of being exposed. When he was young and staying with his grandmother, he was not allowed to play with his black cousins in the front yard and had to remain inside or in the walled back yard. The reason? If the authorities had seen a light-skinned child in a black neighborhood, they could legally sweep him up, sever all ties with his family, and place him in an orphanage. These are just a few examples of the many incidents that were commonplace under apartheid, and it is clear that they left a lasting impression on young Trevor.

But please don't think this memoir is all doom and gloom and fear. After all, Trevor Noah is a comedian, and he finds plenty of humor in his own story. And that's a very good thing: we need it, as he did, to endure the sadness and nearly intolerable constraints under which he grew up. There are the usual stories of teenage angst: falling in love, trying to find a date for the prom, falling in with a "bad crowd," trying to pull a fast one on his mother or stepfather, etc.

And behind it all is his mother Patricia. Her strength and wisdom, and the love between her and her son, come shining through.

I recommend the audio version, perfectly read by the man who lived it and wrote it.
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LibraryThing member mountie9
Fascinating, thought provoking, poignant and hilarious. Honestly I am so out of touch these days I had actually never heard of him until my friend Michele posted about his book. What she said intrigued me so I checked out the audio version. I must thank Michele for this, as from the very first word I was hooked. First off he has a lovely south African accent that I could just listen to for hours, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Its a little bit coming of age, a little bit history lesson of Apartheid and what that really meant and a set of insightful essays that challenge your beliefs and perceptions of the world. His stories are at time hilarious, at at other times heartbreaking and sweet. Truly fascinating and a must read for everyone. Let me tell you, it will make you think of crime in a different way. Sorry this is so brief but things are busy these days, but I still wanted to bring this one to your attention. My fav so far this year.

Favourite Quotes

"it's easy to be judgmental about crime when you live in a world wealthy enough to be removed from it"

"My mother didn’t believe in self-pity. “Learn from your past and be better because of your past,” she used to say, “but don’t cry about your past. Life is full of pain. Let the pain sharpen you, but don’t hold on to it. Don’t be bitter.”

“In society, we do horrible things to one another because we don’t see the person it affects. We don’t see their face. We don’t see them as people. Which was the whole reason the hood was built in the first place, to keep the victims of apartheid out of sight and out of mind. Because if white people ever saw black people as human, they would see that slavery is unconscionable. We live in a world where we don’t see the ramifications of what we do to others, because we don’t live with them. It would be a whole lot harder for an investment banker to rip off people with subprime mortgages if he actually had to live with the people he was ripping off. If we could see one another’s pain and empathize with one another, it would never be worth it to us to commit the crimes in the first place.”
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LibraryThing member hantasmagoria
This would be an amazing stand alone book even if Trevor Noah wasn't famous.

In fact, his fame might hurt it a little -- everyone I recommend it to seems to think Trevor Noah is this mild mannered man with a cute accent.

He provides an incredibly fascinating first personal account of growing up under the insanity of apartheid and the intersection of black, white, and colored communities, cities and townships. Well told and deeply insightful. I learned a ton about South Africa.
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
A compelling autobiography about childhood in pre and post-Apartheid South Africa. Trevor Noah experienced love, violence, racism, terror, poverty, abuse, and more. He perpetrated a wide variety of Huck Finn-ish foolish, and at times destructive, acts. It really is quite remarkable that he is in the position of celebrity in the United States at this point. Fascinating life story!… (more)
LibraryThing member detailmuse
Nearly one million people lived in Soweto. Ninety-nine point nine percent of them were black -- and then there was me. I was famous in my neighborhood just because of the color of my skin. I was so unique people would give directions using me as a landmark. “The house on Makhalima Street. At the corner you’ll see a light-skinned boy. Take a right there.”

This is a great memoir -- informative about race in South Africa during and after apartheid; interesting about the mixed-race comedian’s growing up and coming of age there; and inspirational about how his mother stepped ‘way outside societal and legal bounds to have him and raise him. It’s upbeat and often humorous. It’s also reflective, and the passages about domestic violence by his stepfather are among the most harrowing I’ve read.

{T}he highest rung of what’s possible is far beyond the world you can see. My mother showed me what was possible. The thing that always amazed me about her life was that no one showed her. … She found her way through sheer force of will.… (more)
LibraryThing member Maydacat
Trevor Noah’s account of growing up in South Africa as child of a black woman and a white man is amazing. He describes what it was like not really belonging anywhere. His appearance put him in one category, but he felt more akin to another. His antics, often outside the law, bordered on dangerous. He descriptions of going to church and riding in a car with his mother were quite entertaining. His information about living under the constraints of apartheid and then its slow demise was enlightening. All of it is strung together with humor and a bit of profanity. Most touching was his relationship with his mother. His great respect and love for her shines throughout the book. This no-holds-barred memoir is one that will grab your attention from beginning to end. You will laugh at his antics, but you will also feel his anguish. Remarkable and recommended reading.… (more)
LibraryThing member bookchickdi
Trevor Noah is best known as the new host of “The Daily Show”, but his book “Born a Crime: Stories From A South Africa Childhood” is about his life growing up as the son of a black African woman and white Swiss man in South Africa.

Noah is a terrific writer, and he grabs your attention right from the beginning. He grew up when apartheid was ending, after Nelson Mandela was freed from prison, but things didn’t get easier for South Africans right away. There was a strict caste system, and black Africans were pitted against colored Africans, and since Noah was half-white, he didn’t fit in anywhere.

“Born A Crime” gets its title from the fact that it was illegal for blacks and whites to marry, so his parents had to hide their relationship, and Trevor was never allowed to walk next to both of his parents.

The book is a really a love letter to his mom, who pretty much raised Trevor alone, although Trevor spent a lot of time with his grandmother. His stories of childhood are touching, funny and sad.

Anyone who likes a good memoir will enjoy “Born a Crime”. It gives the reader a look at a place many of us are unfamiliar with, yet his story of a mother who worked hard to give her son a better life is universal.
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LibraryThing member ecataldi
An exceptional audiobook by comedian and Daily Show host, Trevor Noah. Honestly, I didn't know shit about Trevor until I started reading this, the cover didn't look appealing and I may have never picked this up had it not been for my friend's insistence that it was great. She was right, and I highly recommend that this is listened to rather than read, because the author narrates it himself and will even sing, speak in other languages and do fantastic impersonations. It was a laugh out loud experience. Even though his memoir is quite hilarious, it's also eye-opening and a little horrifying as well. Born during South Africa's apartheid, Trevor grew up in a hellish environment that most people aren't even familiar with. It's a great memoir and mini-history on the South African troubles. Fantastic read, will definitely check out again.… (more)
LibraryThing member ilovemycat1
When Trevor Noah was picked to replace Jon Stewart for the host of The Daily Show, he was thrust into the cable comedy world with mighty shoes to fill and was a complete unknown, at least in the US. He was scrutinized and compared to Jon by fans and critics alike. The verdict was not always positive. But, Trevor is well read, funny, super smart, professional and adorable. What I loved about Trevor's book is how his background and upbringing was so different on so many levels than most everyone here in the US, and especially Jon Stewart who grew up in the suburbs of NJ. The talk of his mother's deep faith and devotion to church and of Trevor who was made to join her every week was my first surprise and made a deep impression. The rule of apartheid manifesting itself in every corner - especially in the way blacks in S Africa were separated into homelands, mixing of the races totally prohibited, and the classification of race that left Trevor as even more of an outsider, was always eye opening, although not unknown to me. It was striking how Trevor was not a hit with girls and I loved the stories of Trevor finding a niche to earn money by being the first in line at school for the snacks. The book is engaging and interesting and easy to read. The only shortcoming to the book was that I wished it went a little further in years. It ends long before the emergence of Trevor Noah, the world wide stand up comic that took the USA by storm. Well done, Trevor!… (more)
LibraryThing member MontzaleeW
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!… (more)
LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
I picked up Born A Crime by Trevor Noah because I have read so many positive reviews about the book, in particular the audio version has been lauded so I decided to give a listen. Now I can add my voice to all the others who are praising Trevor Noah’s memoir of growing up in South Africa both under apartheid rule and it’s during it’s aftermath.

The book is full of deeply personal recollections that make the reader feel like you are having a one on one conversation with the author. At times very funny, it is also in turns informative, eyeopening and unnerving. Over and above all, this book stands as a tribute to his mother, who is an amazing and brave woman. Choosing to have a bi-racial child during the dark days of apartheid was dangerous and difficult as this very act violated many of South Africa’s laws at that time. She deliberately chose his name of Trevor as it has no African meaning so that he could grow up to be free to be, go or do whatever he wished. Her valuable life lessons were delivered to her son along with firm discipline and fierce religious values.

Hearing these stories in the author’s own voice gives both the humorous situations and his social observations a feeling of authenticity as he takes you on this journey of his early years. Born A Crime was an excellent listening experience that I highly recommend.
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LibraryThing member kaulsu
A book to be listened to: The authenticity of the author’s voice adds credibility. BUT (oh oh) really? Does the use of f*** in every sentence really make it more credible? More real? There are several women I would give it to if it were using standard English, but this language would be a deal breaker.
LibraryThing member ViragoReads
This was amazing. I do not understand how there are people who thought this was bad. My first thought is that it's white people who just don't/won't get what growing up black is like, but I don't want to be that person.

As a black woman growing up in racist America, even I cannot imagine what it was like to grow up like Trevor did. Apartheid... I just can't imagine. I've experienced racism, but DAMN! I thought this was a brilliant story about his life and the fact that he was unapologetic made it that much better. Why should he apologize? And no wonder he turned to comedy. Yikes! His life was fully a humor, but sadness and fear were very prevalent. I cried when he spoke about his mother being shot and how he thought he had lost her. I was so angry that nothing was ever done about his waste of space step-father. The only parts I skipped were anything with the dogs being abused, or if/when they died. I cannot do animal abuse or death even if the death is just of old age.

Excellent listen.
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LibraryThing member Tytania
Noah is a comedian, and sometimes drops a one-liner or story that's a little jokey, or even very jokey. I thought the story about Hitler was LOL. But it's not a comic book.

Noah is not a writer, so it's not a literary, gripping, flowing book.

Noah is not THE GLASS CASTLE, so it's not "OMG how I survived my crazy childhood". There is racism and domestic abuse out the wazoo and worm-eating poverty. But it's not a shock book.

Ultimately it is a story: the story of his mother. Noah knows what material he's got, and that his mother's story is the Big Story in his life, and he tells it simply and effectively.
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LibraryThing member streamsong
Trevor Noah was born under South Africa's apartheid system.

When his fiercely independent mother decided she wanted a baby, she picked her best friend for the father. It didn't matter to her that he was a white foreign national. However, it did matter to South Africa. It was a crime for whites and blacks to have sex – much less a baby. If discovered, Trevor's mother would have been imprisoned and Trevor taken away to live in an orphanage.

Throughout her life, this strong woman bucked the system in many ways, finding ways to live in the better neighborhoods where it was illegal for her to live, and getting the best education for her son.

Trevor spent his earliest years being hidden- not allowed to venture from his family house and yard. Once apartheid ended, and Nelson Mandela walked out of prison, things became different – but the deeply ingrained racist system remained.

Trevor identified himself as black since he lived within a black family. To the casual observer, he was much lighter skinned and so labeled as mixed – but the mixed bloods, who were the result of mixed bloods marrying mixed bloods for generations, had their own culture as did the whites, the Indians and the Chinese. The race that you belonged to determined who who were, where you lived and whom you hung out with in the school yard. Trevor was the odd man out – not belonging to any of the predetermined groups.

This is Trevor's story of finding a place for himself in a society.

Like others with painful childhoods, Trevor overcame with humor, and is now a well-known South African comedian. The stories he tells are deeply saddening but achingly funny at the same time. It's a vivid picture of growing up in an absurd time with an absurd and unjust system where white policemen armed with automatic rifles and tactical gear still arrived to break up noise complaints in black neighborhoods.

Highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member bostonbibliophile
worth it to read about growing up in South Africa, even if you're not a Trevor Noah fan. I am, so I enjoyed it on both levels.You can hear his voice through his writing; he opens up an alien world and with it shows us a little bit about himself.
LibraryThing member bookappeal
Trevor Noah was raised an outsider in South Africa during the time apartheid ended. He was a mixed race kid raised in a black family so he did not feel at home with any one faction. His mother raised him with discipline, religion, and a desire for learning. But Trevor still nearly took a disastrous path as he came of age in depressingly poor circumstances. Speaking multiple languages and humor helped him survive. This gritty memoir is as much history of S. Africa as a love letter to his mom. Fortunately, Noah tells the stories of his coming of age with bittersweet laugh-out-loud humor.… (more)
LibraryThing member dreplogle
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.
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LibraryThing member BooksForTheLiving
I really enjoyed this. It was different than I expected, but still great. It focuses more on his upbringing, his relationship with his mom, and his time in South Africa. I thought Noah was going to go more into his early career as a comedian, but he didn't. Per the subtitle (Stories from a South African Childhood) I should have known it wasn't going to be about his career.

While Noah is a comedian, and his stories at times are humorous, the overall tone of the book isn't. He broke up the stories wonderfully, giving us a lighter side to his experiences, in between the tougher moments. I'd recommend this to anyone, especially if you like memoirs. A must read for sure!
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LibraryThing member jphamilton
This was an excellent example of how far (geographically and socially) some people travel in their lives. His very insightful book depicts the brutal and surreal world of South Africa's apartheid-dominated society, where Noah was born. But tonight, I will tune in to watch a hip, young, black guy host a very popular comedy show on a national cable station on my TV, far from South Africa. I'm quite impressed with his writing.… (more)
LibraryThing member Arkrayder
I received this book from Netgalley and Random House Publishing in return for a fair and honest review. Thanks! ☺

This is an interesting, heartfelt and funny book to read. It deals with Noah's early years and his growing up in apartheid South Africa. He compares his country to America's and how absurd apartheid was and why it failed. Noah has had a difficult early life and has had tragedy and heartbreak, but his ability to find the silver lining in dire circumstances is inspiring. And his rise out of a South African which keeps its poor down is commendable. I only ever saw Trevor Noah on BBC's Qi show. And I'm glad I have been given the chance to learn more about him. He seems a down to earth block.

Well worth reading. Recommended.
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LibraryThing member mcelhra
If you’re an American, you probably know Trevor Noah as the guy who replaced Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. Unless you’ve already read this book, I’m guessing you don’t know about his childhood growing up in South Africa.

Noah was born to a black mother and a white father. In South Africa, a person of mixed race is called colored. Under apartheid, it was illegal for a black person to have sex with a white person. Having a colored child was concrete evidence that this had occurred. Thus, Trevor was “born a crime.”

Born a Crime is not a chronological time line of Noah’s childhood. Rather, it’s organized of snippets related by themes such as going out in public with his white father, church with his ultra-Christian mother, school life and so-on.

I was constantly amazed at the events Noah recounted from his childhood – the extreme poverty, his abusive step-father, life during apartheid. Through all of this, his mother remained a steadfast source of unconditional love and support – the kind of mother who would literally take a bullet for her child.

Noah’s memoir ends when his childhood ends and young adulthood begins. He briefly mentions that his traveling the world performing as a comedian but only because it was essential to understanding a story about him and his mother. He makes no mention of any details about why he chose comedy, how he got his start, nothing. Don’t go into this expecting to get any scoop on his career. But here’s the thing: Even if Trevor Noah wasn’t famous, his memoir would still be extremely compelling as a glimpse into growing up as a colored person in South Africa. It’s a miracle that he turned out to be as successful as he is with everything he went through growing up. I was thinking about him for days after I finished this book.

I listened to the audio version of this book which made me feel like I was having a conversation (albeit one sided) with him. I love his accent and the accents he did of all the people in his life. Hearing him speak in his mother’s accent was delightful. I also liked knowing the correct pronunciation of all of the unfamiliar African words.

Born a Crime is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read and I predict it will have a high spot on my best of picks for the year. I highly recommend it to all.
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LibraryThing member leslie.98
Memoirs and autobiographies are generally not the type of books I like but this memoir really gave me a feeling about South Africa which didn't hide the awfulness yet wasn't bleak. Part of that is the way many of the stories are told from the perspective of a child who is loved, with the adult Trevor adding commentary. And I think that a large part of it is the attitude that Trevor and his mother take towards life.

The author does a great narration (which is not always the case).
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LibraryThing member KatyBee
So glad I read this memoir - Trevor Noah has a natural and engaging voice. He has traveled a very long way to get to his current place in the world. The stories about his childhood and his family, especially his mother, are both funny and sad and very readable. I learned a lot reading this book and have thought a lot about when he describes the differences of growing up white or black or colored or mixed in South Africa. Recommended - fans of his work on TV should love this.… (more)




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