22 reviews

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
by Trevor Noah

Published: 2019-02-12
Paperback : 304 pages
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410 clubs reading this now
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Recommended to book clubs by 22 of 22 members
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • More than one million copies sold! A “brilliant” (Lupita Nyong’o, Time), “poignant” (Entertainment Weekly), “soul-nourishing” (USA Today) memoir about coming of age during the twilight of apartheid

“Noah’s childhood stories are told ...

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#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • More than one million copies sold! A “brilliant” (Lupita Nyong’o, Time), “poignant” (Entertainment Weekly), “soul-nourishing” (USA Today) memoir about coming of age during the twilight of apartheid

“Noah’s childhood stories are told with all the hilarity and intellect that characterizes his comedy, while illuminating a dark and brutal period in South Africa’s history that must never be forgotten.”—Esquire

Winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor and an NAACP Image Award • Named one of the best books of the year by The New York Time, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Esquire, Newsday, and 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.

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Discussion Questions

1. Trevor Noah opens his memoir with a story about being thrown from a car by his mother. In what ways does this story illustrate the overarching narrative of Trevor Noah’s early life?

2. In Born a Crime, Noah seeks to dispel the myth that the ending of apartheid was bloodless. How much did you know about the end of apartheid before reading this book, and what did you learn about the history of South Africa by reading Noah’s story?

3. One of the most impressive characteristics that Noah conveys about his mother is her faith. How did Patricia’s faith impact young Trevor, and what do you think has been the lasting impression of Patricia’s faith on Trevor Noah’s life?

4. Trevor Noah learned to speak six different languages growing up. What impressed you about the ways that Trevor and his mother navigate neighborhoods, cultures, and family; and how did language make that possible?

5. With all of the challenges Trevor faced growing up, he was gifted by his mother’s assurance that he was always wanted and loved by both of his parents. Given that knowledge, how did issues of race play out in Noah’s relationships with those closest to him — his mother, father, grandparents, and cousins?

6. Noah recounts his mother's use of the Xhosa term Sun'qhela, “a phrase with many shades of meaning” including “don’t undermine me”, “don’t underestimate me,” and “just try me.” Noah recalls that Sun'qhela is “a command and a threat, all at once.” Were there any such phrases employed in your childhood, and if so, what were they?

7. In sharing his story, Trevor Noah shares the stories of many of his family members, including how the meanings of their names were reflected in their lives. His mother’s name, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah, means “She Who Gives Back.” His grandfather, Temperance Noah, was anything but temperate, but his nickname “Tat Shisha”, which translates loosely as “the smokin’ hot grandpa”, was a perfect fit. What insights does Noah’s story offer about the ways that identity is both assigned and chosen?

8. A prominent character in this memoir is Noah’s stepfather, Abel. The name “Abel” recalls the biblical character in the book of Genesis, but his stepfather’s Tsonga name, Ngisaveni, means “Be afraid.” Those two names would turn out to be indicative of his stepfather’s public and private personas. How does Noah describe and wrestle with the issue of domestic violence?

9. Some of the most humorous and heartbreaking stories in Born a Crime are about young Trevor’s early forays into relationships with girls. How did his parents relationships with others influence his perspective on love and relationships?

10. A notable relationship in Born a Crime is between young Trevor and his dog, Fufi. What parallels might be drawn between the way Noah describes his dog Fufi and how he describes himself in his childhood and youth?

11. Noah describes, with hilarious detail, an incident that happened when he was home alone with his great-grandmother (Koko) and didn’t want to use the outhouse. Which incidents, friends, or family members described in Born a Crime are most memorable to you?

12. Noah and his mother lived in a variety of neighborhoods over the years. How does racial segregation affect the daily lives of young Trevor and his mother? What connections can you identify between the challenges in transportation and housing faced by Noah’s family and those faced by people living in poverty in racially segregated communities in the U.S. and Canada today?

Thanks to https://network.crcna.org/faith-nurture/new-resource-discussion-guide-born-crime-trevor-noah

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How did Trevor's ability to speak multiple languages impact his life?
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by Gabriela V. (see profile) 08/23/23

by monica a. (see profile) 12/28/22

I enjoyed this book it is very informative into Noah Trevor‘s life and all the racism he has had to deal with growing up as a biracial kid not the best not the worst

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