My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When I first heard about Born a Crime, I decided to listen to it as an audiobook instead of reading it in a traditional format. I’m so glad that I did. I’m sure the book would be just as good, but it wouldn’t have the correct pronunciation of African phrases, the special voices Noah uses for his grandmother, mother, and other family members, or his emotional delivery.
Born a Crime focuses on Noah’s early years growing up under apartheid and ends in his mid-twenties as his comedy career was taking off but his family suffered a tragedy. As funny as Noah is–and he is funny–the book provides an unflinching look at apartheid and the effects of apartheid after it ended. He describes feeling like an outsider in school, recounts his schemes to make money, reflects on his relationship with his Swedish father, and laments his lackluster love life.
As Noah hilariously recounts his exploits, he never fails to situate them in the social and cultural context, asking difficult questions (e.g., might crime be at times legitimate?) or criticizing the policies of the South African state. Not only was I completely entertained, I learned a lot about the mechanisms of apartheid and the methods by which the government successfully oppressed the majority of the population.
Throughout, Noah returns to themes of empathy and understanding, often reflecting on how language can unite (or divide) people, as well as the love of family, particularly his strong though difficult mother. The last chapter of the book recounts his mother’s marriage to his stepfather, and the raw emotion it still raises was clear in Noah’s narration. Of course, the book also underlines the use of humor to cope with difficult situations.
The only drawback to the audio edition was the lack of pictures. I’m not sure if the hardback or ebook has pictures. When Noah described how he looked as a teenager and his attempts to preen for girls, I really wished I could see it!
I highly recommend this book for teenagers up!