‘Born a Crime’ is the autobiography of Trevor Noah: a South African comedian, political commentator, and television host. He’s currently hosting ‘The Daily Show’- an American satirical news programme on Comedy Central. Using his natural flair for comedy at various instances in the book, Trevor Noah focuses mainly on his childhood in South Africa- recollecting the intimate situations in life and describing his lifestyle over the years.
The various stories narrated don’t flow in the form of a fixed timeline; the farrago of transitions from flashback to flashback could leave you pondering about his age and the situation narrated so many times! Despite this, Trevor manages to weave this disarray into a flow that’ll always keep you hooked.
The emotions expressed by the author through his writing are often reciprocated by the reader. There’s a plethora of emotions one feels- fear, anger, hatred, sadness, and happiness. Something from this book that resonated with me was Trevor’s equation with his mother. They have a casual, yet respectful relationship. There are times when they joke around, and then, there are times when she’s so mad at him that he has to run at breakneck speed just to escape from a beating. His mother is a gem of a character in the book, because she’s so independent and evolved in a society that isn’t. She’s the kind of person who won’t put up with nonsense and will stand by her choices and beliefs without fearing any judgement. The book ends with a conversation between Trevor and his mother, by which one can gauge the immeasurable love they have for each other.
This book is difficult to put down- not because of its suspense, but because the author peels his life for readers layer by layer, leaving them eager to unravel more with every event explored. This book will appeal to all ages- especially teens, because the experiences from Trevor’s school life are so relatable to teenagers universally. I, personally, found those parts very engaging.
There were moments when I was frustrated to the extent where I wish I could simply dive into the book and take charge of situations. The fights between Trevor’s mother and his drunk and abusive stepfather, Abel, were enraging. On reading about racism and the status of women in society back then, I couldn’t even imagine the anger, helplessness and fear that his mother must’ve felt when the police casually dismissed her complaint about Abel beating her up. What’s worse is that he wasn’t even imprisoned at the end, because the officers refused to file a case on the grounds of domestic violence against him.
A substantial chunk of the book talks about how Trevor grew up with Apartheid around him. Racism was one among the many challenges he had to battle with his mother. He interestingly describes how a ‘colored’ person could be either ‘black or white’ and how a ‘black’ person could be ‘colored’ and also reflects on how his grandmother would treat him differently from his cousins because he was ‘colored’ and they were ‘black’. One thing that startled me was how the Chinese were considered ‘black’ while the Japanese were ‘white’ only because South Africa wanted to maintain a good trade relation with them!
The dilemma at the end where the author contemplates whether he should or shouldn’t pay the hospital bills when his mother was in a critical condition was gripping, and I think it was brave of him to write about a sensitive moment like that.
Since this is the first autobiography I’ve read, the bar has been set pretty high for any other autobiography that I might read in the future. If you’re thinking about what you could read next, this book will definitely whet that ‘reader’s appetite’ in you, because it’s definitely an empowering, worthwhile read.
- Kritvee Rajive