Born A Crime is a coming of age story, one by the famous South African comedian Trevor Noah. If you happen follow the world of comedy, then surely, you must know Trevor Noah. The always on the up comedian that rose out of South Africa and is now making audiences world over laugh. Well, aside from comedy he has gone on to take over from Jon Stewart at The Daily Show, a satirical weekly news show in the USA, (Who takes over from Jon Stewart? I mean, seriously, who does!), a position where he has managed to carry on consistently, making America laugh at itself, the politics, culture, society never ending melodrama, an unenviable role.
Personally, I am a huge fan of his, and have followed his shows from when he started out, circa 2009. He is my favorite comedian. I have seen all his stand-up specials and even went to see him live once when by luck he was in a city I was in, Pittsburgh early 2016. (And, of course, he didn’t disappoint!).
He, Trevor, is also an embodiment of what you get when you work really hard at what you love. I mean; the time he came to Pittsburgh, he was touring multiple cities doing comedy shows while also doing the Daily Show each week. And now we see that in this same time-frame, he has written a book. I could go on and on about many things why this book is interesting but let’s dive into the book.
So, it was with premonition that I got to this book wondering what Trevor Noah had in store. Having watched many of his specials, I was wary that this autobiographical account would be a rehash of the same stories he has told again and again on his standup routine. That is: “His Black mom who wanted a ‘white man’, the Swiss Dad who loved chocolate, plus how he was a bag of weed most of the time” Comedians repeat their material a lot so I was wary. However, this was mostly new material. (save for the reference to him being a bag of weed). On the whole, it is a very interesting light read and you will find yourself chuckling if not loudly laughing through much of the book.
Trevor Noah walks us through his life as a kid growing up in apartheid era South Africa. A very troubling time, we learn, but we see him and his crew of hood kids making the best of this world, struggling through it, surviving, thriving. As you would expect from a comedian, the language used is simple, relatable, funny, and engaging enough that you keep wanting to read what next. Trevor does a fine job of telling his story and bringing out the interesting tidbits all through. We see the mischievous little boy. Personally, I saw a bit of my story in this, naughty kid, not that I ever burned down a house (did I?), but most are relatable.
Another good piece of this is one gets to see race, its effects on life, culture through the eyes of a young man/boy growing up in South Africa. Secondly, the idiocy of apartheid and how it destroyed people lives is also visualized. Trevor has his comedic light hearted way of making you see life as he saw it.
Most of the story revolves around Trevor’s story growing up in apartheid South Africa, how he navigated the racially disparate world. At the time, South Africa was split on so many race levels, White, Colored, Indian, Asian, other shades of white, and multiple shades of black. A huge part of the book also involves his hilarious mother. Seriously, I gotta say his mother was pretty badass (read the book, and you will see). She was my hero through out. The mother-son relationship is a humorous, clear one but still typically African parenting example. It is hard to delve into this one without giving spoilers but there is a part where they actually write letters to each other. I mean which parents do this. Trevor gets spanked a lot, big time, like any African kid. Another bit I found interesting were Trevor’s arguments with his mother on many things, Christianity/Jesus being one of them. The mother was a devout Christian, and Trevor was always arguing with her about why Jesus this, and why Jesus that.
The Not So Good
Much as the book reads like a series of stories, titbits picked out of Trevor Noah’s childhood growing up. One can easily start the book in the middle and easily read on. This is good for easy pick up but it also means there is a lack of a coherent story, or theme that builds up but instead it is a collection of stories. Which is okay but not what you would be expecting.
Secondly, since the stories are disjointed, one finds themselves jumping from age nine to age eighteen and then back.
However, the book makes up for this, partly, by offering a short background at the beginning of each chapter. This is helpful firstly because not all of us are familiar with apartheid South Africa and secondly, the stories are an easier to understand with the background.
Thirdly having followed Trevor Noah’s meteoric rise though the world of comedy, it would have been interesting to hear him talk about his trials, struggles and how he navigated the world of comedy. I mean from a chubby “no college”, DJ-ing kid to doing comedy shows all over the world. How did he get there? The trials, tribulations, little successes, big ones, and how he has dealt with the fame. I mean; he has been a pretty huge deal in SA in the last five years, and now he is doing quite well in the modern day Roman Empire (America). What did it take? How does he navigate that? I guess we will have to wait for another book for that. Bummer! but this one is worth its weight in gold.
All in all, Born A Crime is an interesting read one can easily pick up. It is very engaging. Once you start, you will keep wanting to hear the next bit in Trevor’s adventures and/or misadventures. He is part Artful Dodger, part Huckleberry Finn, and so much more. His growing up story is unique and interesting. The book content and language is light, humorous, clear so any one can easily pick it up, from an experienced reader to a novice. I found myself finishing this one in the space of two, 6 hours bus rides, both between Kigali, Rwanda and Mbarara, Uganda. I would definitely recommend it to any reader and would gladly read it again myself. Possibly in the near future.
This review is written by Timothy Kaboya. It first appeared on his blog, before it was modified for publication as review on Turn The Page Africa. Copies of the title are currently available for delivery, upon request.
Born A Crime was published, by Spiegel & Grau, in 2016.