Audiobook Review: Born A Crime (Stories from a South African Childhood)
Written & Read By: Trevor Noah
Not far into listening to this audiobook being read by Trevor Noah himself, it became abundantly clear that this is a perfect example of the benefits of hearing the author reading it over reading their own words, especially autobiographical ones, over reading from the page for myself. Not only couldn’t I bring all that’s needed to this story, but I’d unintentionally take a lot away from important aspects of it.
An early-years autobiography of Trevor Noah, the South African comedian who was born to a black mother and white father in the Apartheid era. His life is fascinating and much of the focus in this book centers on the key point of the title he was essentially born a crime, being of mixed race in apartheid South Africa, his parents’ relationship was illegal and he was living evidence of that.
I’ve often enjoyed Noah’s stand up, I saw him on UK TV years ago on a show that features a few 10 minute stand up sessions, he stood out as my kind of comedian, whose comedy is built on a foundation of intelligence and an interesting perspective. When, years later, he was announced as the person who’d be taking over from Jon Stewart as host of the Daily Show I immediately saw the potential, he’s really intelligent, multilingual, multicultural, well-read, and all these things that make his comedy interesting, give him a perspective on current events that’s usually worth hearing.
Throughout the modestly apportioned chapters, Trevor Noah builds a clear picture of his childhood, the state of the country, the changes it underwent, and the resilience of his mother and himself to make the most of their circumstances, brilliantly detailed though the events recounted are sometimes spaced far apart. The final chapter has some of the most dramatic events that other writers might have at least teased in the opening chapters, if not used as where their story starts.
A key part of Noah’s story is his ability to speak a selection of African languages, and when he reads accounts of his own life he gives the characters what are presumably approximations of their own accents and voices, and even a more minor point is that he’s able to pronounce their names correctly. If I was to read it in my head it would be at the very least inaccurate, if not unintentionally but unavoidably racially insensitive.
Based on Trevor Noah’s stand up I was already looking forward to the feature film adaptation that’s in development, with Lupita Nyong’o already signed on to play Trevor’s mother Patricia, but now I’ve heard the book I’m convinced this is going to be a really enjoyable film and if handled aright it could even be a major awards contender, unlike this cake that was recently made on ‘The Great British Bake Off’ (or ‘The Great British Baking Show’ for all you Americans), that was meant to look like Lupita Nyong’o.
After enjoying the author’s reading of this book so much, I think I may now do this as my routine method for enjoying works of non-fiction. In this instance it was almost vital to have him reading it as anyone else would have been unable to give all the pronunciation, intonation, or accents that brought the account to life and greatly deepened my understanding of his experiences.
Born A Crime is available in multiple formats, including a child-friendly version of the book for younger readers which I think is a really brilliant idea to bring this story that’s full of lessons on racial issues to a wider audience and possibly even makes it suitable for use in classrooms. My firm recommendation is to download the audiobook read by Trevor Noah himself, it’d be a great use of an Audible free trial for example, as he brings linguistic abilities that few readers would be able to even attempt, that greatly maximizes the enjoyment and understanding of his life and story.