Review: “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah

bornBorn a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. Spiegel & Grau. 304 pages.

I’ll have to admit that before I read this book I didn’t know much about Trevor Noah other than he took Jon Stewart’s place on The Daily Show about a year ago. And that’s when I stopped watching the show. But reading this book makes me want to start watching it again.

Born a Crime, like its subtitle, is about Trevor Noah’s childhood at the very end of apartheid in South Africa. And like the title, the fact that Noah was born to a black mother and a white father was punishable by five years in prison under the existing system. Even when apartheid ended and Nelson Mandela took over as president, many of the old structures remained, and it was difficult to live and survive in that system.

South African culture divided–and continues to divide–its races into four distinct groups: whites, blacks, Indians and coloreds. Under apartheid it was law that you were required to socialize only within your group, and whole communities–neighborhoods and even cities–were built to handle a particular group. Coloreds were traditionally people of mixed descent, and could be those with blended parents, or those whose ancestry was colored. What makes it even more complicated is that judges can rule a child colored, black, or even white, regardless of what their parents look like. Then his or her parents have to decide whether they both have to move to a different community, or separate so one will go with the child.

It’s a totally different way of looking at race, and the apartheid rulers looked at how race was handled in many places–the United States, England, and other countries–before they came up with their structure. And it’s an interesting part of the book. But it’s not all of the book. Much of the story has to do with Noah’s childhood being raised by a very strong, church-going mother. It’s filled with humorous and interesting anecdotes, such as the time he and his dance troupe took their lead dancer named Hitler to a Jewish party, the time he spent a week in jail and what he learned, and his senior prom with the most gorgeous girl he had ever met that didn’t speak a word of English.

It’s a well-written book (at first I was sure it was ghost written and kept checking, but Noah apparently wrote it) and truly entertaining. I encourage you to get a copy.

I give it five out of five stars.