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Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood | Book Review

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
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Publisher's Summary

Trevor Noah, one of the comedy world's fastest-rising stars and host of The Daily Show, tells his wild coming-of-age story during the twilight of apartheid in South Africa and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed. In this Audible Studios production, Noah provides something deeper than traditional memoirists: powerfully funny observations about how farcical political and social systems play out in our lives.

"Nelson Mandela once said, 'If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.' He was so right. When you make the effort to speak someone else's language, even if it's just basic phrases here and there, you are saying to them, 'I understand that you have a culture and identity that exists beyond me. I see you as a human being.'" (Trevor Noah)

Attuned to the power of language at a young age - as a means of acceptance and influence in a country divided, then subdivided, into groups at odds with one another - Noah's raw, personal journey becomes something extraordinary in audio: a true testament to the power of storytelling. With brutal honesty and piercing wit, he forgoes an ordinary reading and, instead, delivers something more intimate, sharing his story with the openness and candor of a close friend. His chameleon-like ability to mimic accents and dialects, to shift effortlessly between languages including English, Xhosa, and Zulu, and to embody characters throughout his childhood - his mother, his gran, his schoolmates, first crushes and infatuations - brings each memory to life in vivid detail. Hearing him directly, you're reminded of the gift inherent in telling one's story and having it heard; of connecting with another, and seeing them as a human being.

The stories Noah tells are by turns hilarious, bizarre, tender, dark, and poignant - subsisting on caterpillars during months of extreme poverty, making comically pitiful attempts at teenage romance in a color-obsessed world, thrown into jail as the hapless fall guy for a crime he didn't commit, thrown by his mother from a speeding car driven by murderous gangsters, and more.


My Review

Story: Grade | A

This is the second book I've picked up that shares the life of a man from South Africa.; The first being Nelson Mandela. What I liked about Trevor's was that everything felt like I was actually sitting down with him and being told a lot of really good stories, like I was his actual friend. Like we were just too friends sitting there saying "remember when this happened?" Though I have never had to suffer through being purposefully rejected by both parents so as not to get into trouble from the government, I got a glimpse to that reality through the stories. He made me feel like I could relate and be like my mom is the exact same way!"

I think one of the first things that stood out to me when listening to this book was the fact that a lot of the stories really did not connect chronologically. In one moment of the book Trevor talks about his stepfather as if he is already a part of his life and well known to the reader, but about three quarters of the way through the book he formally introduces the stepfather to the reader. This was a little bit jarring, one moment he talks about not having friends and being kind of an outcast to society, and the next moment Trevor is talking about his adventures with his best friend.

My next issues with the book were some of the moral "conclusions" that Trevor came to at certain points in his life. Obviously this is my worldview opinion against his, but it was just something that rubbed me the wrong way. For instance, Trevor depicts a story between him and his dog. From this interaction that "love" is not a singular or monogamous thing, but something that can be shared between several people. I could be interpreting this wrong, but that's how I took it.


Narration: Grade | B+

It's quite a treat to get to hear the stories of some of the events in your favorite public figures life, it is extra special to be able to hear these events from the actual person himself. It adds a level of realness to the stories that you wouldn't get if someone else were dictating them to you. I happen to know that hearing the stories of South African apartheid by a white guy from California would not have had the same impact as it did coming from Trevor Noah. He is a great storyteller as it is through his work on The Daily Show, but he did an especially good job at bringing some of the people alive through variations of his tones and inflections. Just listening to him try and talk like his mother made me laugh out loud.

Overall Grade | B+

Though this was a book of random stories and events in Trevor Noah's life, the scattered nature of the stories did not take away from the overall message of the book. Trevor did a great job of conveying the realities of apartheid in his day, and how it not only affected his life but the lives of those around him. I would really recommend this book for anyone who wants an easy read but also something that will expose them to different cultures and outside views of the world. Definitely give this book a try.


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