My Year of Reading Memoir: Born A Crime by Trevor Noah

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I fell in love with memoir a few years ago, and authors are publishing new and exciting stories about their lives all the time. Each month I’ll highlight a different memoir, and I invite you to read along with me!

This month I read Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime­. I first became aware of Trevor Noah in 2011 when I was studying abroad in South Africa. At our orientation we were shown one of Noah’s comedy specials, in which he commented on and impersonated various ethnic groups in South Africa. Recognizing neither the accents nor the cultural stereotypes, I was completely lost. I became more familiar with his comedy (and less lost) over my time in South Africa and would occasionally watch it when I was feeling nostalgic after I returned home.

I was pleasantly surprised when he became a correspondent on the Daily Show in 2014 and was even more pleasantly surprised when he took the show over from Jon Stewart the following year.  Despite my mild fandom, it became abundantly clear upon reading the inside jacket of Born a Crime how little I knew about the remarkable circumstances of Noah’s early life.

Trevor Noah was born during apartheid to a black mother and a white father. During apartheid, sexual relations between people of different races was illegal. Thus the book’s title—Noah was quite literally born a crime. There is a section toward the beginning of the book that is equal parts horrifying and comically absurd that details the lengths Noah’s mother would take to keep him hidden and, when in public, make it look like they didn’t know each other at all.

Though apartheid ended when Noah was five years old, he would feel like an outsider for much of his young life—never sure into which racial group he really fit. But Born a Crime is by no means purely a sob story. In Noah’s stories of his childhood we become acquainted with a clever, enterprising, and notoriously mischievous young man. We also become acquainted with his mother, Patrica Nomuyiselo Noah, a deeply religious, tough as nails woman with an infectious sense of humor and an aversion to authority. Noah credits his mother’s resiliency in the face of hardship and refusal to conform to the role her society allotted her with making him the man he became.

Trevor Noah’s stories are in turn relatable and incredible, harrowing and triumphant, funny and poignant. Regardless of your familiarity with Noah’s work as a comedian, I can wholeheartedly recommend Born a Crime.

-Alison

Read Born A Crime with me!

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Alison is a library clerk at CLP Beechview who enjoys both making and reading comics, cooking and writing creatively. Her favorite genres to read are memoir, science fiction, literary fiction and nonfiction.