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Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by [Trevor Noah]

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 Born a crim;trevor noah;memoir;celebrity memoir;autobiography;gifts for dad;humor book;essays Born a crim;trevor noah;memoir;celebrity memoir;autobiography;gifts for dad;humor book;essays
IT’S TREVOR NOAH: Born a Crime IT’S TREVOR NOAH: Born a Crime
Read more from Trevor Noah! Trevor Noah’s poignant memoir is now available in a young reader’s edition Explore the eBook!

Editorial Reviews

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

1

Run

Sometimes in big Hollywood movies they’ll have these crazy chase scenes where somebody jumps or gets thrown from a moving car. The person hits the ground and rolls for a bit. Then they come to a stop and pop up and dust themselves off, like it was no big deal. Whenever I see that I think, That’s rubbish. Getting thrown out of a moving car hurts way worse than that.

I was nine years old when my mother threw me out of a moving car. It happened on a Sunday. I know it was on a Sunday because we were coming home from church, and every Sunday in my childhood meant church. We never missed church. My mother was—­and still is—­ a deeply religious woman. Very Christian. Like indigenous peoples around the world, black South Africans adopted the religion of our colonizers. By “adopt” I mean it was forced on us. The white man was quite stern with the native. “You need to pray to Jesus,” he said. “Jesus will save you.” To which the native replied, “Well, we do need to be saved—­saved from you, but that’s beside the point. So let’s give this Jesus thing a shot.”

My whole family is religious, but where my mother was Team Jesus all the way, my grandmother balanced her Christian faith with the traditional Xhosa beliefs she’d grown up with, communicating with the spirits of our ancestors. For a long time I didn’t understand why so many black people had abandoned their indigenous faith for Christianity. But the more we went to church and the longer I sat in those pews the more I learned about how Christianity works: If you’re Native American and you pray to the wolves, you’re a savage. If you’re African and you pray to your ancestors, you’re a primitive. But when white people pray to a guy who turns water into wine, well, that’s just common sense.

My childhood involved church, or some form of church, at least four nights a week. Tuesday night was the prayer meeting. Wednesday night was Bible study. Thursday night was Youth church. Friday and Saturday we had off. (Time to sin!) Then on Sunday we went to church. Three churches, to be precise. The reason we went to three churches was because my mom said each church gave her something different. The first church offered jubilant praise of the Lord. The second church offered deep analysis of the scripture, which my mom loved. The third church offered passion and catharsis; it was a place where you truly felt the presence of the Holy Spirit inside you. Completely by coincidence, as we moved back and forth among these churches, I noticed that each one had its own distinct racial makeup: Jubilant church was mixed church. Analytical church was white church. And passionate, cathartic church, that was black church.

Mixed church was Rhema Bible Church. Rhema was one of those huge, super­modern, suburban megachurches. The pastor, Ray McCauley, was an ex-bodybuilder with a big smile and the personality of a cheerleader. Pastor Ray had competed in the 1974 Mr. Universe competition. He placed third. The winner that year was Arnold Schwarzenegger. Every week, Ray would be up onstage working really hard to make Jesus cool. There was arena-­style seating and a rock band jamming out with the latest Christian contemporary pop. Everyone sang along, and if you didn’t know the words that was okay because they were all right up there on the Jumbotron for you. It was Christian karaoke, basically. I always had a blast at mixed church.

White church was Rosebank Union in Sandton, a very white and wealthy part of Johannesburg. I loved white church because I didn’t actually have to go to the main service. My mom would go to that, and I would go to the youth side, to Sunday school. In Sunday school we got to read cool stories. Noah and the flood was obviously a favorite; I had a personal stake there. But I also loved the stories about Moses parting the Red Sea, David slaying Goliath, Jesus whipping the money changers in the temple.

I grew up in a home with very little exposure to popular culture. Boyz II Men were not allowed in my mother’s house. Songs about some guy grinding on a girl all night long? No, no, no. That was forbidden. I’d hear the other kids at school singing “End of the Road,” and I’d have no clue what was going on. I knew of these Boyz II Men, but I didn’t really know who they were. The only music I knew was from church: soaring, uplifting songs praising Jesus. It was the same with movies. My mom didn’t want my mind polluted by movies with sex and violence. So the Bible was my action movie. Samson was my superhero. He was my He-­Man. A guy beating a thousand people to death with the jawbone of a donkey? That’s pretty badass. Eventually you get to Paul writing letters to the Ephesians and it loses the plot, but the Old Testament and the Gospels? I could quote you anything from those pages, chapter and verse. There were Bible games and quizzes every week at white church, and I kicked everyone’s ass.

Then there was black church. There was always some kind of black church service going on somewhere, and we tried them all. In the township, that typically meant an outdoor, tent-­revival-­style church. We usually went to my grandmother’s church, an old-­school Methodist congregation, five hundred African grannies in blue-­and-­white blouses, clutching their Bibles and patiently burning in the hot African sun. Black church was rough, I won’t lie. No air-­conditioning. No lyrics up on Jumbotrons. And it lasted forever, three or four hours at least, which confused me because white church was only like an hour—­in and out, thanks for coming. But at black church I would sit there for what felt like an eternity, trying to figure out why time moved so slowly. Is it possible for time to actually stop? If so, why does it stop at black church and not at white church? I eventually decided black people needed more time with Jesus because we suffered more. “I’m here to fill up on my blessings for the week,” my mother used to say. The more time we spent at church, she reckoned, the more blessings we accrued, like a Starbucks Rewards Card.

Black church had one saving grace. If I could make it to the third or fourth hour I’d get to watch the pastor cast demons out of people. People possessed by demons would start running up and down the aisles like madmen, screaming in tongues. The ushers would tackle them, like bouncers at a club, and hold them down for the pastor. The pastor would grab their heads and violently shake them back and forth, shouting, “I cast out this spirit in the name of Jesus!” Some pastors were more violent than others, but what they all shared in common was that they wouldn’t stop until the demon was gone and the congregant had gone limp and collapsed on the stage. The person had to fall. Because if he didn’t fall that meant the demon was powerful and the pastor needed to come at him even harder. You could be a linebacker in the NFL. Didn’t matter. That pastor was taking you down. Good Lord, that was fun.

Christian karaoke, badass action stories, and violent faith healers—­man, I loved church. The thing I didn’t love was the lengths we had to go to in order to get to church. It was an epic slog. We lived in Eden Park, a tiny suburb way outside Johannesburg. It took us an hour to get to white church, another forty-­five minutes to get to mixed church, and another forty-­five minutes to drive out to Soweto for black church. Then, if that weren’t bad enough, some Sundays we’d double back to white church for a special evening service. By the time we finally got home at night, I’d collapse into bed.

This particular Sunday, the Sunday I was hurled from a moving car, started out like any other Sunday. My mother woke me up, made me porridge for breakfast. I took my bath while she dressed my baby brother Andrew, who was nine months old. Then we went out to the driveway, but once we were finally all strapped in and ready to go, the car wouldn’t start. My mom had this ancient, broken-­down, bright-­tangerine Volkswagen Beetle that she picked up for next to nothing. The reason she got it for next to nothing was because it was always breaking down. To this day I hate secondhand cars. Almost everything that’s ever gone wrong in my life I can trace back to a secondhand car. Secondhand cars made me get detention for being late for school. Secondhand cars left us hitchhiking on the side of the freeway. A secondhand car was also the reason my mom got married. If it hadn’t been for the Volkswagen that didn’t work, we never would have looked for the mechanic who became the husband who became the stepfather who became the man who tortured us for years and put a bullet in the back of my mother’s head—­I’ll take the new car with the warranty every time.

As much as I loved church, the idea of a nine-­hour slog, from mixed church to white church to black church then doubling back to white church again, was just too much to contemplate. It was bad enough in a car, but taking public transport would be twice as long and twice as hard. When the Volkswagen refused to start, inside my head I was praying, Please say we’ll just stay home. Please say we’ll just stay home. Then I glanced over to see the determined look on my mother’s face, her jaw set, and I knew I had a long day ahead of me.

“Come,” she said. “We’re going to catch minibuses.”

My mother is as stubborn as she is religious. Once her mind’s made up, that’s it. Indeed, obstacles that would normally lead a person to change their plans, like a car breaking down, only made her more determined to forge ahead.

“It’s the Devil,” she said about the stalled car. “The Devil doesn’t want us to go to church. That’s why we’ve got to catch minibuses.”

Whenever I found myself up against my mother’s faith-­based obstinacy, I would try, as respectfully as possible, to counter with an opposing point of view.

“Or,” I said, “the Lord knows that today we shouldn’t go to church, which is why he made sure the car wouldn’t start, so that we stay at home as a family and take a day of rest, because even the Lord rested.”

“Ah, that’s the Devil talking, Trevor.”

“No, because Jesus is in control, and if Jesus is in control and we pray to Jesus, he would let the car start, but he hasn’t, therefore—­”

“No, Trevor! Sometimes Jesus puts obstacles in your way to see if you overcome them. Like Job. This could be a test.”

“Ah! Yes, Mom. But the test could be to see if we’re willing to accept what has happened and stay at home and praise Jesus for his wisdom.”

“No. That’s the Devil talking. Now go change your clothes.”

“But Mom!”

“Trevor! Sun’qhela!”

Sun’qhela is a phrase with many shades of meaning. It says “don’t undermine me,” “don’t underestimate me,” and “just try me.” It’s a command and a threat, all at once. It’s a common thing for Xhosa parents to say to their kids. Any time I heard it I knew it meant the conversation was over, and if I uttered another word I was in for a hiding—­what we call a spanking.

At the time I attended a private Catholic school known as Maryvale College. I was the champion of the Maryvale sports day every single year, and my mother won the moms’ trophy every single year. Why? Because she was always chasing me to kick my ass, and I was always running not to get my ass kicked. Nobody ran like me and my mom. She wasn’t one of those “Come over here and get your hiding” type moms. She’d deliver it to you free of charge. She was a thrower, too. Whatever was next to her was coming at you. If it was something breakable, I had to catch it and put it down. If it broke, that would be my fault, too, and the ass-­kicking would be that much worse. If she threw a vase at me, I’d have to catch it, put it down, and then run. In a split second, I’d have to think, Is it valuable? Yes. Is it breakable? Yes. Catch it, put it down, now run.

We had a very Tom and Jerry relationship, me and my mom. She was the strict disciplinarian; I was naughty as shit. She would send me out to buy groceries, and I wouldn’t come right home because I’d be using the change from the milk and bread to play arcade games at the supermarket. I loved videogames. I was a master at Street Fighter. I could go forever on a single play. I’d drop a coin in, time would fly, and the next thing I knew there’d be a woman behind me with a belt. It was a race. I’d take off out the door and through the dusty streets of Eden Park, clambering over walls, ducking through backyards. It was a normal thing in our neighborhood. Everybody knew: that Trevor child would come through like a bat out of hell, and his mom would be right there behind him. She could go at a full sprint in high heels, but if she really wanted to come after me she had this thing where she’d kick her shoes off while still going at top speed. She’d do this weird move with her ankles and the heels would go flying and she wouldn’t even miss a step. That’s when I knew, Okay, she’s in turbo mode now.

When I was little she always caught me, but as I got older I got faster, and when speed failed her she’d use her wits. If I was about to get away she’d yell, “Stop! Thief!” She’d do this to her own child. In South Africa, nobody gets involved in other people’s business—unless it’s mob justice, and then everybody wants in. So she’d yell “Thief!” knowing it would bring the whole neighborhood out against me, and then I’d have strangers trying to grab me and tackle me, and I’d have to duck and dive and dodge them as well, all the while screaming, “I’m not a thief! I’m her son!”

The last thing I wanted to do that Sunday morning was climb into some crowded minibus, but the second I heard my mom say sun’qhela I knew my fate was sealed. She gathered up Andrew and we climbed out of the Volkswagen and went out to try to catch a ride.

Review

“[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 --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B01DHWACVY
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ One World (November 15, 2016)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ November 15, 2016
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 3123 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Sticky notes ‏ : ‎ On Kindle Scribe
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 264 pages
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.7 out of 5 stars 49,574 ratings

About the author

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Trevor Noah is the most successful comedian in Africa and is the host of the Emmy® and Peabody® Award-winning “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central. Under Trevor, “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” has broken free from the restraints of a 30-minute linear show, producing engaging social content, award-winning digital series, podcasts and more for its global audience. In 2020, “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” received eight Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Variety Talk Series and Outstanding Writing for A Variety Series. Trevor also received NAACP Image Award nominations for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Host in a Talk or News/Information (Series or Special). “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” also received Webby Awards for Best in Comedy and Best Web Personality/Host, as well as a NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Talk Series. Trevor originally joined “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” in 2014 as a contributor.

In 2019, “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” received two Primetime Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Variety Talk Series and Outstanding Interactive Program. Additionally, Trevor received the 2019 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series, as well as nominations for Outstanding Talk Series, Outstanding Variety Show, Outstanding host in a Talk or News/Information. In 2018, “The Daily Show” won a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Talk Episode and received nominations for a Writers Guild Award (Comedy/Variety Series) as well as two NAACP Image Awards, for Outstanding Talk Series and Outstanding Host in a Talk or News/Information Show. Trevor also won Best Host at the 2017 MTV Movie & TV Awards, as well as a 2017 Creative Arts Emmy Award for Outstanding Short Form Variety Series for his hosting role on “The Daily Show – Between The Scenes.”

Born in South Africa to a black South African mother and a white European father, Noah has hosted numerous television shows including South Africa’s music, television and film awards, and two seasons of his own late-night talk show, “Tonight with Trevor Noah.”

Trevor has written, produced, and starred in 11 comedy specials, including his most recent, “Trevor Noah: Son of Patricia,” which launched in November 2018 on Netflix. The special touches upon racism, immigration, camping and more. “Trevor Noah: Son Of Patricia” received a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Variety Show, as well as a Grammy Award nomination for Best Comedy Album. Other recent stand-up specials in “Trevor Noah: Afraid of the Dark” (2017) on Netflix and “Trevor Noah: Lost in Translation” (2016) on Comedy Central. Noah was the subject of David Paul Meyer's award-winning documentary film “You Laugh But It's True” which tells the story of his remarkable career in post-apartheid South Africa. His Showtime comedy special, “Trevor Noah: African American” premiered in 2013. He was nominated for "Personality of the Year" at the 2014 and 2015 MTV Africa Music Awards and won the award in 2015.

Trevor's success has also spanned to sold out shows over 5 continents. Trevor crossed North America on his first ever arena outing with the “Loud & Clear Tour 2019.” Due to popular demand, Trevor expanded his Loud & Clear Tour to 2020. With over 75 sold-out North American shows to date, including his sold-out show at Madison Square Garden, Trevor is bringing his wildly successful tour to new cities, across the U.S. and Europe.

In 2019, Trevor launched a new podcast series “The Trevor Noah Podcast” exclusively on Luminary. In his podcast, Trevor challenges himself – and all of his listeners – to explore unfamiliar angles, embrace differing viewpoints, and celebrate the contradictions that make the modern world both bewildering and exciting. In 2020, “The Trevor Noah Podcast” won the Webby Award and Webby People’s Voice Award for News & Politics (Podcasts).

Trevor Noah is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood” and its young readers adaptation “It’s Trevor Noah: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood,” which also debuted as a New York Times bestseller. The book received the Thurber Prize for American Humor and two NAACP Image Awards, one for Outstanding Literary Work by a Debut Author and another for Outstanding Literary Work in the Biography/Auto-Biography category.

“Born A Crime” is a collection of personal stories about growing up in South Africa during the last gasps of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that came with its demise. Already known for his incisive social and political commentary, here Noah turns his focus inward, giving readers an intimate look at the world that shaped him. These are true stories,sometimes dark, occasionally bizarre, frequently tender, and always hilarious. Whether subsisting on caterpillars during months of extreme poverty or making comically hapless attempts at teenage romance, from the time he was thrown in jail to the time he was thrown from a speeding car driven by murderous gangsters, the experiences covered in this book will shock and amaze, even as they leave you rolling on the floor with laughter.

The Audible edition of “Born a Crime,” performed by Trevor, was produced by Audible and remains one of the top-selling, highest-rated, and most-commented-on Audible performances of all time. “Born a Crime” won the Audie Award for “Best Male Narrator,” and was also nominated in the “Autobiography/Memoir,” “Best Narration by the Author” and “Audiobook of the Year” categories. To date, “Born a Crime” has sold over 1 million copies across all formats. The paperback version of “Born a Crime” came out in February 2019. In April 2019, Trevor released “It’s Trevor Noah: Born a Crime,” adapted for young readers. The book not only provides a fascinating and honest perspective on South Africa’s racial history, but it will inspire young readers looking to improve their own lives.

Trevor’s production company, Day Zero Productions, recently partnered with Viacom and already has several projects in development, including the feature film adaptation of Born a Crime starring Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o, which is set up at Paramount Players. Additionally, Trevor is set to produce an upcoming film built around the Adewumi family, specifically 8-year-old Tani who won the 2019 New York chess championship and whose family became an inspiration to many.

In April 2018, Noah launched The Trevor Noah Foundation, a youth development initiative that enhances youth preparedness for higher education or entry into the workforce. Noah’s vision is a South Africa that advances because each generation builds and must grow beyond its predecessor. Through a partnership with Microsoft, the foundation is able to provide under-resourced schools with the opportunity to use technology as a tool to enhance the learning experience, as well as increase digital literacy beyond the classroom.

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