Born a Crime by Trevor Noah This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

May 22, 2017
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Known for hosting Comedy Central’s Tonight Show after Jon Stewart retired, Trevor Noah was already vocal about his political satire before publishing this book. He went viral after an almost ridiculously straight-faced interview with Tomi Lahren in 2016, the blazing face of The Blaze and other conservative extremes. Noah also fulfilled his “dream” of hosting a comedy special in New York, dubbed Afraid of the Dark on Netflix, an almost hysterical ride around the globe. Here, Noah looks back, not forward, at what brought him here today.

And geez, he’s funny. Without much ado, Noah delves into his own history, and all the hustling, middle school politics, and naughty-kid stunts he pulled off. It’s almost surreal, some of his escapades, like running frantically to avoid another “hiding” (spanking) from his mother, all while having to dodge and carefully replace the antiques she would throw at him, knowing he’d be blamed if they broke, too. Much of his life revolves around a central question, identity. As the obviously biracial son of a white man and black Xhosa woman, Noah remembers having to literally play indoors to stay safe. People of mixed race were the living, breathing proof racial divisions weren’t working. And unlike America, Noah joking states, where even a drop of black blood meant you were black, in South Africa, mixed “colored people” were a category of their own, the caveat between black and white. This only makes things more complicated, as Noah struggles to find his place in a world where he wasn’t even supposed to exist.

At the heart of the book is his mother, the roaring, spirited, stubborn, religious Patricia Noah. As Trevor Noah writes, she is a force to be reckoned with, his “partner in crime.” There is really nothing like it. She is fiercely Christian, her unshakable spirit making her the perfect counterpart to her nifty son, leading to some hilariously nuanced conversations about “what Jesus would have really wanted,” as Noah tries to argue his way out of Sunday service, to his mother resorting to wits over speed when she can no longer catch him running on foot, yelling “Thief! Thief!” to get an entire village to help her. His mother’s fire can be seen in her decision to have him, when she had no reason to think apartheid would end during their lifetimes.

The woman is not a saint, and Noah recognized at a young age his shifting father figures, her loves. He struggled to understand why his mother could not leave her clearly abusive second partner, the man who would eventually threaten her life. Trevor Noah also observes with clarity, today, her efforts to educate her son: feeding his restless mind with books, ideas, and sights to see, ensuring that even if he never left his village, he would at least know that wasn’t all there was to the world.

All the while, Noah never ceases to make incisive comments about the political systems in South Africa he lived to see fall apart, such as apartheid, whose nonsensical racism finds roots all over the world. With somewhat historical interludes between essays, he demonstrates not only a ridiculously timed sense of humor, but a keen analytical mind. History he applies to his own life reveals truths that are profound and intelligent. You learn more about people--and the world--by picking up this book. Trevor Noah may have been born a crime, but thank goodness he was.

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