Review: Born a Crime

Trevor Noah is best known as the host of the Daily Show and as a stand-up comedian. The South African comic has two hour-long specials available on Netflix that are truly worth watching. His humor is smart, heavily sarcastic, and refreshingly free of the crude sexual humor that most comedians seem to depend on. 

His talents aren’t restricted only to performance comedy, however. He also wrote an autobiography, Born a Crime. Like his stand-up comedy, his book is at once entertaining and educational, both refreshing and incisive. 

Born a Crime depicts his experience growing up in South Africa when his existence was, in effect, illegal. Apartheid was still the law of the land, and the union of his white father and his black mother was outlawed. While other such born “criminals” existed, many of them escaped the institutionalized racism of South Africa and found refuge in Europe or elsewhere. Noah’s mother refused to follow such examples, and Noah’s unique childhood is captured in the pages of his book. 

Noah’s story is a revelation into life under apartheid and the singular experience of a mixed-race child in a world that was rigidly segregated into black and white communities. Noah writes candidly about both the privileges and the hardships that he faced. Some of his stories are painful and filled with violence, and he doesn’t hesitate to point out injustice. 

However, his signature sense of humor and charisma shine through the pages and fill them with laughter. Irony and sarcasm mark his telling of even the darkest episodes, and even those painful moments are only that: moments. His story is not defined by them. His words reveal a spirit that refuses to be cowed by the evils and ignorances of others. He makes the choice, again and again, to laugh at life’s absurdities, of which there are multitudes. 

Although Noah’s story is foreign and unique, he also makes himself very relatable. He faced hardships and prejudices that many cannot imagine. But he also struggled with acne, downloaded music illegally, and embarrassed himself at a school dance. He knew what it was like to be scared, friendless, and lonely at times. He was raised by a mother who would have moved heaven and earth to do what was best for her son, and she also knew how to put the fear of God in him with a proper spanking.

Born a Crime opens a window into a life that was, at times, difficult and cruel, but it also reveals a spirit that is both courageous and kind. The rare and enviable ability to laugh at folly–whether his own or someone else’s–makes Noah’s story enjoyable and inspirational. 

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