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Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood Hardcover – November 15, 2016
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“[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
About the Author
Trevor Noah is a comedian from South Africa.
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Trevor's mother taught him to use humor to help cope with life, and he learned that lesson well. Despite having good reasons for feeling self-pity and resentment, Trevor had a knack for finding the humor in even the most difficult circumstances. Not forced, jokey humor, but just a low-key appreciation for the weirdness of life. As I turned the last page, I smiled at the ending, which was perfect, but I also felt sad that the story ended. I want to know what happened next. I hope he will write a sequel.
I started reading my ebook galley as soon as I was approved.
I have to love a guy who finds comedy in tragedy and who gleefully spins yarns about experiences that would keep most of us in therapy for a lifetime. There is a genius in comedy that allows us to encounter devastating truths through the protective lens of laughter.
The heroine of the book is Noah's mother, a feisty lady with a solid rock faith, a gal who snubs her nose at things that don't make sense. She makes mistakes, but always out of love. She takes huge risks but somehow Jesus is always there to catch her mid-fall.
Noah was "naughty as s***" and a challenge to raise, but never hateful or mean. He learned to navigate Apartheid society's complex system that divided people in to three groups: black, white, and colored. How one was categorized was senseless. Japanese were put into the 'white' slot but Chinese into the 'colored'.
"The genius of Apartheid was convincing people who were the overwhelming majority to turn on each other. Apart hate, is what is was."
Noah was 'colored' with a 'black' Xhosa African mother and a 'white' Swiss father, his very existence implicating his parent's crime. Had the police discovered them, his parents would be sent to jail and Noah sent to an orphanage. He spent much of his life hidden away, indoors. His parents could not be seen together with him, and his mother had to even pretend he was not her child.
Noah was "colored by complexion but not by culture." He spoke multiple languages, Xhosa and Zulu and Afrikaans, and English, could fit into most groups, but felt affiliated to black culture.
The book is a series of episodic tales, thoughtfully constructed, saving the climax of his family history until the end of the book, after we have come to know and understand them.
"I saw the futility of violence, the cycle that just repeats itself, the damage that's inflicted on people that they in turn inflict on others. I saw, more than anything, that relationships are not sustained by violence, but by love."
The book is funny but is more than a diversive read, it enlarges our understanding of the world. Noah offers an understanding of South African history, colonialism, and Apartheid that is engaging and relevant. He shares the important things he learned and offers them to us. We should listen. We should learn.
But this review shouldn't be about his celebrity on the Daily Show. It stands alone as a remarkable memoir and a completely engaging story that will appeal to anyone who's felt like an outsider. He is a wonderful story teller, finding the right balance between relaying his experiences, weaving in the social atmosphere around it and doing it in such a way that even as an American reader, I was able to visualize the communities he was describing in rich detail. Additionally, he was able to explain aspects of a post apartheid world that not only clarify the plight of South Africans today but also shed light on some of the challenges we are facing here in the US. He has a unique perspective and a wonderful voice that I hope to hear more of in the future.