Born A Crime

Born A Crime

Stories From A South African Childhood

Book - 2016 | First edition
Average Rating:
Rate this:
Random House, Inc.
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER &; The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of one man&;s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed

NAMED ONE OF PASTE&;S BEST MEMOIRS OF THE DECADE &; NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Michiko Kakutani, New York Times &; USA Today &; San Francisco Chronicle &; NPR &; Esquire &; Newsday &; Booklist

Trevor Noah&;s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents&; indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa&;s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man&;s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother&;his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

The stories collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother&;s unconventional, unconditional love.

Praise for Born a Crime

&;Compelling . . . By turns alarming, sad and funny, [Trevor Noah&;s] book provides a harrowing look, through the prism of Mr. Noah&;s family, at life in South Africa under apartheid. . . . Born a Crime is not just an unnerving account of growing up in South Africa under apartheid, but a love letter to the author&;s remarkable mother.&;&;Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

Baker & Taylor
The host of The Daily Show With Trevor Noah traces his wild coming of age during the twilight of apartheid in South Africa and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed, offering insight into the farcical aspects of the political and social systems of today's world.

Publisher: New York : Spiegel & Grau, 2016
Edition: First edition
Copyright Date: ©2016
ISBN: 9780399588174
Branch Call Number: 791.45028 N73
Characteristics: x, 288 pages ; 25 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Aug 07, 2020

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah is an autobiography about Trevor's life in Africa. Trevor was born a crime as it was illegal for different races to marry and have children in Africa. The story starts in Trevor's early life when he was introduced to Judaism, but wasn't forced to convert. Growing up, Trevor's mom stressed independence and free thought as well as all the values of Judaism. In Trevor's whole early life, he couldn't be seen with his parents and had to have his mother's friends pose as his mother. Trevor struggled to fit in at school as he didn't know which group to play with. Later in high school, Trevor had to start a lunch delivery business to move up and be accepted by his fellow classmates. After highschool, he started getting into comedy in 2002 and has been on ever since. I found the fact that Trevor burned down a house and did petty crimes to be unexpected. Trevor had a rough, but loving relationship with his mother as he was always getting in trouble. Trevor didn't see his dad much and could only meet in secret. Trevor talks about politics and race in a kind of close way as he has been through a lot. I would recommend this book to middle schoolers interested in learning about racial problems.

Jun 30, 2020

Wow! Trevor Noah's stories are educational, enlightening, hilarious, horrifying and important. Even though the book is based in South Africa, so much is relevant to America today. A must read. In fact, I even just ordered copies for my nieces and my son.

Jun 28, 2020

I have only just begun reading and listening to this. Already, I like his style of storytelling. Having also watched some of his comedy shows online, I fell in love with his intelligent, articulate, yet comedic personality as a storyteller. Can’t wait to finish this book!

May 30, 2020

Wow! This was quite an eye-opener for me. Trevor Noah shares his childhood experiences in South Africa. Who knew he was a CD-pirating, DJ entrepreneur? What kind of lasting effects have helped or hindered him in his adult life? I cannot even imagine a world in which I could not call my dad, dad in public, or one in which my mother was often mistaken for my nanny. Being ‘colored’ in a black-and-White world made for a liminal existence. His parents must be quite proud of him and they had a part in what a great human he is today.

May 27, 2020

Patricia Noah raised a great man.

Apr 30, 2020

Greatly enjoyed reading this book of stories focused on the South African upbringing of a rambunctious, witty, mixed-race young man. It is funny, educational, and gripping. By itself, the last story is worth it alone. Unpacking the colonial devastation that the South African apartheid regime is reason enough for this book to be important, but pairing that with the day-to-day of friendship, love, school, and semi-legal hustling breathes life into understanding a holistic view of the country.

Apr 27, 2020

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood is an anecdotal autobiography by comedian Trevor Noah. Many people just know Trevor Noah as the host of the daily show but in this book he recounts stories of growing up in South Africa under apartheid. Trevor Noah is a great story teller and the book seems genuine and honest. I liked how the book was formatted as each chapter told its own story but they were all tied together. Trevor does a good job describing what life in South Africa under apartheid was like. The stories in this book give you perspective on your own life and how we take a lot of things for granted, like a working toilet. As you giggle at Trevor Noah’s funny commentary of having to use an outhouse you realize how fortunate you are. This book is moving, funny and informative. Five out of five stars.
@Nessie of the Hamilton Public Library's Teen Review Board

Mar 22, 2020

This book manages to be simultaneously entertaining (it's full of comic anecdotes and suspenseful stories) and educative (you get a glimpse at the history and sociology of South Africa that "dry" history books can't quite depict).
I'm looking forward to see his show. That is if this *** coronavirus situation improves…

Mar 18, 2020

"Born A Crime" by Trevor Noah is undoubtedly a life-changing story. It puts so many things into perspective; including day-to-day life, money, family, and religion. Noah describes how things were in post-Apartheid South Africa, and he tells truthful tales about his mom, his friends, and his childhood. The stories I found most inspiring were about his mother. At the end of the book, he explains this miracle that happened to his mother, where she survives a bullet to the head. Throughout her life, she has been an extremely devout Christian, and Noah decides her commitment to God had been a serious influencer on her survival. Noah also adds that he had never been to keen on her all-day Sunday visits, but after her survival at that hospital, his whole wits change about it. In the end, these stories uncover new feelings towards loved-ones, and may influence you to sincerely reconsider connections to your family and their priorities.

Mar 03, 2020

Hands down among the best books I've read over the last few years. Informative, entertaining and heartbreaking in equal parts, Born a Crime is a pretty impressive achievement given the youth of its author. I knew next to nothing about Trevor Noah but I appreciated his intelligent, sharp observations and his disarming honesty. I particularly enjoyed the tribute he pays to his smart, rebellious and incredibly brave mother who was the greatest driving force in his childhood. As it turned out, I also knew very little about apartheid - the way it actually worked and all the problems that sprang up after it fell, so these vivid stories from Trevor's childhood were a real eye-opener. They are full of insights about racism, religion, language, poverty, (lack of) education, the position of women in society, crime, violence, everyday survival and, ultimately, a person's identity and place in the world.
Born a Crime tells a really personal and yet universal story in many respects. It's powerful, honest, funny and dark at the same time, still it never turns to despair, self-pity or hopelessness. It's a story of survival against the odds and the human ability to transcend the limits of their origin.

View All Comments


Add a Quote

“Nelson Mandela once said, 'If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.' He was so right. When you make the effort to speak someone else's language, even if it's just basic phrases here and there, you are saying to them, 'I understand that you have a culture and identity that exists beyond me. I see you as a human being”
― Trevor Noah, Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood

Mar 06, 2018

People thought my mom was crazy. Ice rinks and drive-ins and suburbs, these things were izinto zabelungu—the things of white people. So many black people had internalized the logic of apartheid and made it their own. Why teach a black child white things? Neighbors and relatives used to pester my mom. “Why do all this? Why show him the world when he’s never going to leave the ghetto?” “Because,” she would say, “even if he never leaves the ghetto, he will know that the ghetto is not the world. If that is all I accomplish, I’ve done enough.”

Mar 06, 2018

But the more we went to church and the longer I sat in those pews the more I learned about how Christianity works: If you’re Native American and you pray to the wolves, you’re a savage. If you’re African and you pray to your ancestors, you’re a primitive. But when white people pray to a guy who turns water into wine, well, that’s just common sense.

This quote could be titled 'Christianity, assimilate or else!'

Nov 18, 2017

"In the [neighbour]hood, even if you're not a hardcore criminal, crime is in your life in some way or another. There are degrees of it. ... The hood made me realized that crime succeeds because crime does the one thing the government doesn't do: crime cares. Crime is grassroots. Crime looks for the young kids who need support and a lifting hand. Crime offers internship programs and summer jobs and opportunities for advancement. Crime gets involved in the community. Crime doesn't discriminate." (p. 209)

Feb 21, 2017

The genius of apartheid was convincing people who were the overwhelming majority to turn on each other. Apart hate is what it was. You separate people into groups and make them hate one another so you can run them all.


Add Age Suitability
Apr 04, 2019

jackycwyeung thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over

Mar 06, 2018

katboxjanitor thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over

Sep 21, 2017

green_turtle_2159 thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over

Apr 04, 2017

wrtrchk thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over


Add a Summary
SPL_Sonya Sep 23, 2019

Trevor Noah is best known as the late night talk show host who took over the Daily Show after the retirement of Jon Stewart in 2015. Trevor Noah is South African and this book relates the many fascinating and improbable stories that made up his childhood.

Noah reminds us of the horrors of apartheid (forced segregation of the races) in his native country. The fact that his mother is black and his father is white was actually a crime when he was born in the 1980s. People of different races could not marry and definitely could not have a child together. But that's exactly what happened in Trevor's case.

By the bizarre and hateful traditions of South Africa at that time he was labelled as 'coloured' to differentiate him from black people and white people. Everyone was classified based on their race. He was kept out of the public eye as much as possible growing up. When seen in public, Trevor's mother had to pretend she did not know him. As a child Trevor found this profoundly disturbing. His white father from Switzerland also could not acknowledge any connection with the boy.

Despite the horrors of life in South Africa, this memoir is upbeat and very funny. Trevor Noah was the kind of child that drives parents crazy. He was impulsive, clever and always getting himself into trouble. He was maddening and yet he was also adorable and irresistible.

There is no bitterness in his retelling of his childhood despite the poverty and violence that was always around him. He relates how difficult it was to fit in because of his unusual racial status. Noah's honesty is refreshing. At no time in his book does he exaggerate his importance or avoid embarrassing stories about himself. Quite the opposite, in fact. His stories about his first girlfriend, his illegal money making schemes and his trouble fitting in with other kids are honest, endearing and often hilarious.

It is incredible to think that a young man who grew up under such horrible circumstances could turn out to be the successful host of a TV show half a world away.

Feb 21, 2017

When Trevor Noah was born in South Africa in 1984, his existence was literally illegal, proof that his black, Xhosa mother and his white, Swiss-German father had violated the Immorality Act of 1927, one of the many laws defining the system known as apartheid. The crime carried a punishment of four to five years in prison, and mixed race children were often seized and placed in state-run orphanages. But Noah’s mother was determined and clever, and she managed to hold onto her son, refusing to flee her home country in order to raise him. But it made his childhood complicated, even after apartheid officially ended in 1994. Racial hierarchies and inequities persisted, and despite receiving a good education, his upbringing was anything but easy. In a series of essays, Born a Crime chronicles Noah’s experience growing up under apartheid and its aftermath.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at SCLibrary

To Top