This week’s BotW is Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, which I’ve wanted to read since I heard about it and picked up in a Kindle Daily deal a while back. I started off by reading it in chunks (hence why it took me a few weeks to read) and then ended up reading the second half pretty much in one sitting.
For those of you who don’t know, Trevor Noah is a South African comedian who succeeded Jon Stewart as the host of the Daily Show in late 2015. This book isn’t an about his rise to fame though, it’s a collection of essays about his childhood and adolescence in South Africa, where as the child of a white father and a black mother he was literally illegal. Hence the title.
This is both a engaging look at the childhood of a very naughty and mischievous child and a fascinating but horrifying look at how Apartheid worked and its very real effects on people’s lives. I’m in my early 30s and, because I was brought up in a house where if the radio was on it was playing Radio 4, I can remember the end of the Apartheid system, but until I read this I hadn’t really appreciated the full reality of what had been going on in South Africa less than 30 years ago. And as Trevor Noah is pretty much my age – give or take a month or two – I could draw exact paralells between his childhood and mine – we were passing the same milestones at the same time.
This is darkly funny in places and profoundly shocking in others. There are hilarious stories here about going from church on a Sunday, about dating and about the language barrier. But Noah’s childhood was far from easy – he spent large periods being hidden inside houses to avoid detection – and if he did go out extreme measures were needed to protect him. Even after the end of Apartheid, Trevor never really fits in anywhere – even in his own family. But one of the things that shines through in this book is his mother’s love for him and her determination that he should dream bigger than the rules that society has set out for him. It’s packed with background information about how South Africa worked – but wears it very lightly because it’s woven in to the narrative of the book so well.
I read this on my kindle, but could hear Noah’s own voice in every paragraph. In fact if you’re more patient than I am, you can have him read it to you because he narrates the audiobook himself. I gained even more respect for Noah having read this – and am even more annoyed that he had to cancel his tour date in my home town because he got the Daily Show gig. I still have the unused ticket sitting in the bottom of my ticket box. I suspect the opportunity to see him in a venue that small won’t come around again – but the book it good enough that I’ll try and get over it!
You should be able to get Born a Crime from all good bookshops – or you could order if from the Big Green Bookshop. As I write this, the Kindle and Kobo editions are more expensive than the paperback one, but it has gone in deals before, so you could add it to your wishlist and wait. And as I already mentioned, it’s also available as an audiobook from Audible and Kobo.