Book Review: “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah


I heard about Trevor Noah, when it was announced by Comedy Central that Trevor Noah, who?, was going to replace Jon Stewart. Where did this guy come from. I watched a few of his comedy shows and saw that he was very funny. Then this book came out. The title was definitely catchy. A crime to be born into a mixed-race family! Where was this? When did this happen? That’s when I got hooked. I utterly enjoyed this book and highly recommend this book to anyone who don’t appreciate and understand racism, poverty, and how some part of the world lived. It would definitely make you appreciate what we’ve got in this country.

– Intro page before each chapter set the tone or foreword for the chapter. Nice style.
– The book started out with this story of his being thrown out of minibus as a 10+ year-old youngster by his mother because his mother saw the danger of being killed by the opposing tribes men. He survived and fall and ran – his key survival talent.
– Since he was born “illegally” because his mother’s desire to have her own family, he was frequently hidden from public eyes to avoid having to explain his fair skin.
– Ultimately you identify with the people surrounding you. He considers himself black because he’s surrounded by black family members. He told this hilarious story of his shitting inside the house as his blind great grandmother Koko “smelled” on. The outcome was simply outrageous when the family decided it was Satan’s work to leave the poop in the garbage can. He also told of the story of being a chameleon (white, black or colored) because he could speak a few dialects and English.
– He had many run-ins with troubles. One time he accidentally burned down a house by leaving a magnifying glass on a mattress where the sun came in. He’s a trouble maker since young age.
– Pets stories: Cats are perceived as witches. His first pet was gutted and hung when he came back one day due to the superstition of country men. Then he moved on dog. Fufi’s story: “you don’t own the thing you love.” He discovered in his young age that his Fufi was also owned by another family during time he was in school.
– Girls story: got dumped on Valentine’s day once, then he had a crush with this girl but he never told her his feeling then one day she’s moved out of the country. Then on Trevor’s prom night with Babiki, the most beautiful woman that he never had a conversation with and lastly found that they didn’t speak the same languages. Sad and funny!
– At some point he reconnected with his white father after a 10-year gap. He found that his father, Robert, kept track of his career all these years. Despite their lack of deep relationship, they kept a safe distance from each other to his dad’s liking as Robert was a very private man.
– Distinctions between colored, black and white. Chinese are treated as colored and Japanese are treated as white during apartheid. Apartheid encourage struggled between races.
– To survive the hood, he was a food dealer because he ran fast, sells pirated CD’s, bartering stolen things to make extra money. He learned the basic of business that way.
– Almost got caught stealing chocolate bar, instead his best friend, Teddy, was arrested. Despite the video recording, he was never picked out.
– Trevor’s adventure into CD pirating and DJ. “Go Hitler”chanting shocked the Jewish school.
– Very good observations on legal laws and parents’ rules: laws appear to be more rational than parents’ rules; parents server as the “judge, jury, and executioner for your entire childhood, and it feels like they give you a life sentence for every misdemeanor.” Noah’s one-week experience in the jail for driving his step-dad’s car without permission and getting stopped by police who mistook him as a carjacker. His experience in jail clearly highlight the tensions of races among the white, black and colored. Ironically, the “colored” gang’s reputation protected and confused him at the same time. He ended up sided with the “white” as they tend not to be hard criminals. Because of multi-lingual skill, he also managed to help this “hulk” guy in communication with the police. At the end, he was bailed out by his mother.
– Mother’s love really showed when said, ” “Everything I have ever done I’ve done from a place of love. If I don’t punish you, the world will punish you even worse. The world doesn’t love you. If the police get you, the police don’t love you. When I beat you, I’m trying to save you. When they beat you, they’re trying to kill you.” I’ve seen similar quotes from people who had a difficult childhood and turned out good. It really takes all a mother can give to not have the children gone astray and that’s mother’s love for you. After his mother had her second son, she wouldn’t use violence any more as Noah said, “relationships are not sustained by violence but by love. Love is a creative act. When you love someone you create a new world for them.”
– Being a “colored” person in South Africa could be very confusing. This quote of his spelled out his dilemma: ” Because racism exits, and you have to pick a side. You can say that you don’t pick sides, but eventually life will force you to pick a side.
– The last chapter was a heartbreaking story about his mother’s being subjected to the domestic violence of his step father, Abel, who turned into a tyrannical monster after quitting weed and started drinking himself to his failed car garage, despite the his skill and all the efforts of Noah’s mother to turn the business around.
– The first time his step father hit his mom was when his was 9 years old. He and his mother endured many more years of beating from Abel who at Noah’s 6th grade beat him violently because his faking his mother signature to avoid going to some classes. Noah was able to move out but his mother, Patricia was trapped with two sons from Abel.
– The tragic ending happened when Noah got a call from his little brother that Mom was shot by Abel. He rushed back to see his mother at the hospital and discovered miraculously that though she was shot in the head, the bullet missed all the critical organs, arteries, veins without causing too severe of a damage. During his hospital stay, he discovered that she didn’t have a the medical insurance. He was willing to pay the hospital bills but the discussion of “black tax” came up where the children couldn’t get out under the spell of the poverty because he had to pay for the sins or debts of the family. And the vicious cycle continues as they plunged into poverty themselves. There was another observation his made that mothers would offer the children unconditional love but not necessarily reciprocated by their children. I thought about it and agreed with him on that.

This was a great read for me to understand and appreciate the upbringing of a man born into a unfortunately circumstance (mixed-race family) in an odd country during the changing time of the country. There was pain, love, hate, crime, and drama all wrapped into this one man, now a successful comedian. What a story! I don’t think any fictional author could come up with a better story.

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