Longtime readers of Cinefessions might notice something different on this review: it is scored out of five stars rather than the usual four! It has not been decided if we will be moving all reviews to the five-star scale, but for the time being, at least, any books reviewed on Cinefessions will now be based on the ever-popular five-star scale.

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TitleBorn a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
Author: Trevor Noah
Published: 2016
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Audiobook Narrator: Trevor Noah

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood has to be the single most hyped up book I have seen since I got into audiobooks a year and a half ago. It’s one the most consistently recommended books I see on Reddit, and one of the highest rated books on Audible. I’ve wanted to give it a shot, but every time I went to spend the credit, I talked myself out of it. I don’t watch The Daily Show, and, frankly, know nothing of Trevor Noah, so why would I care to read his memoir? I’m so glad that Audible included this in their summer sale (where you could spend two credits, and get a third book free) because I may have continued to pass on it, which would have been a real shame.

Born a Crime taught me so much about what it was like to live in South Africa during, and after, the apartheid. I’ll be honest: I was completely ignorant to it before this memoir. Sure, I’d heard of apartheid, but that is about it. I remember talking about Nelson Mandela in grade school, but I couldn’t tell you much about him today. I’m still woefully under-educated when it comes to this terrible history, but Trevor Noah opened my eyes a little bit to the way of life during, and shortly after, this time of racial segregation. Much of what Noah stated as a simple matter-of-fact way of life for him left me shocked, and saddened, which is surely why he told this story.

More than the tale of South African history, Born a Crime is the story of Trevor Noah’s mother, and how she raised a young boy in a world that was always against her. Noah was the child of a black mother and a white father, which was illegal during apartheid (hence the title of the memoir), and as a “colored” child, as he was referred to in South Africa, life was never easy. He was always the outsider, no matter where he went, and the story of him growing up during these times was nothing short of fascinating.

True to the subtitle, this memoir sticks mostly to Noah’s childhood. There are some stories about his life after high school, but the bulk of the tales are from his teen years, or earlier. Anyone looking to see how Noah became the host of The Daily Show will be sadly disappointed, as that is not mentioned once, that I can recall, throughout the entire memoir. In fact, his work as a comedian, and how that came to be, is only mentioned in passing. This is not a story about that time of his life, but rather a tribute to his mother. If half of what Noah says about his mother is true, she is one incredible, strong, willful woman who sacrificed everything to give her sons what they needed, which, most of the time, was discipline. It’s a beautiful story that is at times heartbreaking, but often quite humorous.

If there is any complaint I can muster with this book it’s that the stories do not follow a chronological timeline at all. One chapter will be about Noah as a teenager, “borrowing” his stepfather’s vehicle, and then the next chapter will tell us how his mother met his stepfather, who we had been reading different stories about for the past four or five chapters. With everything being told out of order, I wish we would have gotten a clearer statement of age in a lot of the chapters. For example, the final chapter tells a heartbreaking story, and all I kept thinking was, “how old are you at this point”? It sounds silly, but an 18-year old handles things much differently than a 25-year old, who handles things differently than a 30-year old. It was not a huge problem, but I was curious about his age in some chapters, and this could have been avoided if things were told more linearly. This is a small complaint, though, and doesn’t take away from the impact of any of the stories.

The audiobooks is narrated by Trevor Noah himself, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Noah does a great job creating different, and consistent voices for the different people in his life. He’s passionate about what’s being told, which really helps drive the stories home. Noah’s natural South African accent adds to the atmosphere of the book as well. He does a wonderful job telling stories from his childhood.

Born a Crime is as good as everyone has been telling you, and I highly recommend it. The fact that I knew nothing of Trevor Noah coming into this memoir – never even seen a full episode of The Daily Show – really meant nothing. This is the story of how a young troublemaker, who was constantly an outsider, made his way through a post-apartheid South Africa, and the mother that helped him out along the way. It’s beautifully told, often laugh out loud funny, and absolutely worth your time.