Dec 03

Book Review: Born a Crime

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African ChildhoodBorn a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

This is one of the most interesting memoirs I have ever listened to. I’m glad I listened to it instead of reading it, because Noah says a few things in other languages that I wouldn’t have been able to pronounce in my head. What made it so interesting was how far removed from my own upbringing his childhood was. Noah’s life was literally and figuratively on the other side of the world from me. It made me realize how little I actually know about South Africa, for example, that as a mixed-race child, his very existence could get either or both of his parents thrown in jail.

Unlike many comedian’s memoirs, this didn’t really hit me as depressing. It could be because the author himself read it, or it could be that he misses some of that self-deprecation. At times he does kind of mock himself, like when he naively misunderstand why the Jewish-sponsored cultural day might have an issue with his main dancer being named Hitler. Other times he mocks other people, like when they ask him to identify someone in a photo when it’s clearly himself. His line asserting his innocence in the “burning down the house” episode made me chuckle for days (something like “yes, there were matches, and yes, the house burned down, but this is merely circumstantial evidence.”), but most of the other stories, while certainly interesting, were not laugh-out-loud funny. I now know what the texture of a goat’s eyeball tastes like, and which cars are the best for sleeping in.

Each chapter was arranged around a theme, where he’d start out by telling you why secondhand cars resulted in him being thrown from a moving vehicle and why his mom eventually got shot in the back of the head, and then he’d start talking about how he went to three churches every Sunday and end the chapter with the story of him getting thrown out of a moving car by his mom. Noah is a great storyteller. By the time you got to the climax of each tale, you would have had all the information you needed to understand the situation without having the plot spoiled for you. I don’t think “childhood so fraught with peril it makes nonfiction read better than fiction” is a contest anyone wants to enter, much less win, but Noah would certainly make it past the first round.

What I’m hoping to get every time I read a memoir is to learn a little more about a different kind of person’s life. (That’s what I’m hoping to get out of novels as well.) Noah’s stories were perilous enough to be interesting, and yet his attitude was positive enough that as a reader I was cheering him on instead of feeling like I was having my pity solicited. I ended up listening to this memoir in less than a 24 hour period, and after I finished it, I just stayed silent for a while, needing to digest. It’s rare that something is so interesting and thought provoking that I feel the need to hold off listening to or reading anything else. It’s even rarer if it’s something that’s billed as comedy.

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