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.