In One Word

In One Word, Born A Crime: Stories From A South African Childhood by Trevor Noah is…

born a crime

  • Published by John Murray in 2017
  • Format: Audiobook
    • Narrator: Trevor Noah
    • Listening Speed: 1x
  • Listening Time: 4 fascinating days


  • Entirely new to Trevor Noah’s material as my experience thus far only consists of a clip or two on the Daily Show. Still, this fits into one of my reading challenges and this has been recommended by my book club so I’m going to give it a go.
  • Noah is far from an ordinary South African boy. As the title states, his existence was the result of a criminal act – a relationship between a black woman and a white man, punishable by imprisonment and permanent loss of custody rights. Through determination, intelligence and some astounding lucky, Trevor and his mother manage to outwit the system. Trevor also manages to have a semi-normal childhood full of boyish mischief, embarrassing romantic missteps and wondering just where he fits in on the playground and in society as apartheid comes crashing down.
  • Listening to this via audiobook is definitely the best way to read this. The author does a great job of doing all the voices and it gives the stories a much more personal edge.
  • Interspersed with some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments. Two stood out: one where he was five and found himself, ah, caught short. The other was his ‘drawing on the wall’ theory. That nearly made me laugh out laud as I was doing my solitary walk around the block. Thanks for nearly making me look mad to the neighbours, Mr Noah!
  • Going from one point of his life to another, following themes rather than a timeline. It does mean that one doesn’t get a very clear view of what happened when in the author’s life. The stories are so interesting, however, that this is just a minor complaint.
  • How much admiration the author feels for his mother is both obvious and infectious. I won’t spoil it but this woman has gone to some incredible lengths to defy the system and get away with it. Throughout the book, she demonstrates courage, determination and indomitable self-sufficiency. I want her autobiography now!
  • That scene in the Jewish school was both hilarious and utterly cringeworthy. Something the author doesn’t tell us, though, is when he found out the truth and how embarrassed he must have felt when he did. I wonder if that teacher has read this book and remembers the incident too.
  • Extent of apartheid and how it permeated into every part of life is thoroughly impressed into the reader. The insidiousness of the system is relentlessly bored on you like a drill into your brain. If you’re like me, you’ll just know it was a racist system which is thankfully long since abolished. This book, however, takes you on a extended guided tour through what turns out to be an incredibly thorough system hell bent on reducing anyone who isn’t white to less than nothing. The worst part was the classification of everyone into a particular racial category. It only only tempted mixed race kids into selling out their black heritage but also scared whole families into separating for fear of being ‘demoted’ and their families being cheated out of the best opportunities. All throughout, the author showed how much research he had done into it, far beyond his own extensive experience.
  • No punches were pulled in the portrayal of domestic abuse. It will make you incredibly angry and sick to your stomach to see the author’s family suffer under it. That’s doubled by the fact that this police force is worse at preventing it than usual.
  • Interesting look into the different cultures and communities within South Africa. It’s a multifarious society indeed with so many traditions, rituals and prejudices against the other tribes that often come out in very ugly ways. There are some aspects about some of them that I (and I think the author does too) find uncomfortable, especially with their treatment of women. Be prepared for some unsettling reading.
  • Not a doubt about it, that last story will rip your heart out and play with the pieces. The author saved the most dramatic and heartwrenching story until last and I was really on the edge of my seat all the way to the end.
  • Got through the whole spectrum of emotion while reading this book: joy, terror, sadness, repulsion, fury and everything else in between. It might not be the longest but it is definitely rich in content and I feel the richer for reading it.

Goodreads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Did you agree with my rating? Can you think of a better word to describe it? Please let me know with a like, share or comment.

3 thoughts on “In One Word, Born A Crime: Stories From A South African Childhood by Trevor Noah is…”

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