book review: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

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BORN A CRIME by Trevor Noah
★★★★☆
Spiegel & Grau, 2016

Born a Crime is a fantastically incisive and entertaining memoir about Trevor Noah’s childhood growing up in South Africa. It also made a great audiobook, as Noah narrates it himself, and he’s clearly a born performer and storyteller.

I loved the anecdotes that featured Noah’s childhood, particularly regarding his complicated relationship with his black mother and white father growing up under apartheid. It’s a great example of a memoir which mixes human interest with a focus on the sociopolitical backdrop, drawing connections between the two, though after a while I found that I was most interested in the sections of this book where Noah talked about apartheid and South African culture. The personal anecdotes added a warm and comedic touch, but Noah’s insights into the culture and history of his country were really what appealed to me about this memoir.

The shift in focus to his adolescence is what dropped this from 5 stars to 4 for me. A really strong opening gave way to a rather aimless middle section which devoted far too much time to exploits about bootlegging CDs and trying and failing to get a date. It eventually regains its footing and the final chapter in particular is excellent, but I felt my interest waning for a while there.

Another reason I’d recommend the audiobook is that the prose itself isn’t as polished as it could be. Noah has a tendency to deal in superlatives – I lost track of the number of times I heard a phrase like ‘I’d never been so scared in my life’ or ‘that was the happiest moment of my life.’ As anyone whose writing I have ever edited can attest, repetition is probably my biggest pet peeve, but it’s mercifully not quite as grating when you’re listening to Noah tell his own story with such passion.

Anyway, my few qualms aside, I did really enjoy this – I found it both entertaining and eye-opening. It’s a genuinely heartfelt memoir and I would recommend it very highly.

14 thoughts on “book review: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

  1. Great review! I never thought to listen to this on audio and I should have.
    Did you hear this is being adapted into a movie? I’m pretty excited 🙂 Apparently, Lupita Nyong’o will be playing Noah’s mother!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wouldn’t have thought of it either, but I’ve been spending a lot of time on planes lately and I can’t read because of motion sickness, so my friends came through with their audiobook recs.

      Oh, I had not heard that but that’s so exciting! I adore Lupita, I want her to be in everything!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Love hearing your thoughts on the book, Rachel! I’m currently reading this on audiobook and loving it so far. I do agree that his writing style isn’t the most unique and has a lot of repetition. But I think because I’m listening to him talking and not reading or “seeing” the repetition on paper, it doesn’t bug me that much. It actually feels more natural, just like he’s chatting with you informally. I will definitely write a review of the book once I’ve finished reading it, but so far I feel like this is going to be a 5-star read 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had the same thought about the writing style – I think it would have grated on me so much more if I had been reading it, but it lent itself really well to the audiobook because of how conversational it was. I’m glad you’re loving it and I can’t wait to read your review!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This has been on my to-read list for a long time and I’m enjoying experiencing it vicariously through all the reviews . Sorry to hear the middle lagged! I’ll keep in mind that Noah reads the audiobook. Memoirs read by the author are my favorite sort of audiobook 🙂

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  4. Excellent review! I really liked this book too but yeah, occasionally the writing flagged or I felt my interest waning when the bootlegging CDs part seemed to go on forever. But when he’s good, he’s great, and I’m excited that he’s coming out with a second memoir soon.

    Liked by 1 person

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