Born a Crime by Trevor Noah


I recently took a long train journey, but I was not bored because I was reading Trevor Noah's novel Born a Crime.  I found it unputdownable.


Trevor Noah (born in 1984) is a South African comedian, writer, producer and former television presenter. Noah grew up in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa. Apartheid was a system of institutionalised racial segregation and discrimination that existed in South Africa from 1948 to 1994. During that time, the South African government passed laws that segregated people of different races, mainly whites and non-whites, into different neighbourhoods, schools, hospitals and other public facilities. The policy also denied non-whites the right to vote and restricted their access to skilled jobs, education and land ownership. The apartheid system was widely condemned both nationally and internationally (for example, by the United Nations Special Committee Against Apartheid, for which the famous artist Robert Rauschenberg created a poster) and was finally dismantled after prolonged resistance inside and outside South Africa.


Noah's Born a Crime is a memoir that chronicles his life growing up in South Africa during and after apartheid. As the mixed-race son of a black Xhosa woman and a white Swiss man, Noah was considered illegal, a crime punishable by imprisonment, and he comments: "Where most children are proof of their parents' love, I was proof of their criminality".


In his book, Noah writes about his experiences as a child and teenager and the challenges of living in a divided society, trying to find his identity and reconcile his conflicting racial identities. He vividly describes belonging to and identifying with different groups, while at the same time often being part of the outgroup, which refers to people who are not accepted by a particular group and may even be perceived as 'other' or threatening by its members.


The book is a powerful and humorous account of survival, resilience and hope in the face of adversity. It tackles complex issues in an accessible way, combining personal anecdotes with descriptions of systemic racism and social inequality, and providing insights into, for example, our perceptions of culture and identity: “Language brings with it an identity and a culture, or at least the perception of it. A shared language says: ‘We’re the same.’ A language barrier says: ‘We’re different.’” As insightful as the book is, it is also very entertaining.  One reader commented: “This is a soul-stirring, tear-jerking, very poignant, and well-written book about the life of a young man who, due to his upbringing, is wise beyond his years”.

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