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Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood - Trevor Noah

I enjoyed this memoir, which is exactly what it says on the tin, a collection of stories about the author’s childhood and youth in South Africa. It’s a quick read, flows well and is often funny. The writing is clear and has a distinctive voice. It’s aimed at American readers and so tends to explain South Africa in terms of the U.S., which can be helpful if you are in fact an American reader; Noah takes the time to explain things and I learned from it. Despite the grim backdrop – at the time Noah was born, it was illegal for black and white people to have children together, and when out in public his mother would sometimes find a woman of a more similar skin tone to pretend to be his mother – it’s an enjoyable book, told with energy and personality. Ending on the 40-page chapter about the abusive stepfather who wound up shooting his mom (no spoilers, this is mentioned in the first chapter) was a downer though.


I don’t read a lot of celebrity memoirs, and, fairly or unfairly, tend to be more skeptical about them than about memoirs by otherwise unknown authors. Noah fuels my skepticism with a few inconsistencies: he tells a story about himself as a toddler chasing his father through a park calling “Daddy! Daddy!” and then later on tells us that he never called his father “Daddy” or anything else other than his first name because it was too dangerous. Meanwhile some of the other stories seem likely to be embellished versions of what really happened. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book and think it is a good choice for those who enjoy memoirs or want to learn more about South Africa, as well as of course fans of Trevor Noah.