Trevor Noah’s autobiography Born a Crime follows Noah’s life during and after apartheid in South Africa. The book is dedicated to Noah’s mother, who plays a crucial role in the memoir, as she is an authority figure in Noah’s life and education.
In terms of structure, the events develop more or less chronologically, from the time Trevor was born to his twenties when his mother was shot by his stepfather. However, several chapters jump backward and forward in time and are not told in a linear manner.
The main character is Trevor Noah, who introduces several other characters as he talks about his life in South Africa. He mainly talks about his mother – Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah, his father – Robert, and his stepfather – Abel. Other important characters include Trevor’s friends Bongani and Tom, and members of Trevor’s family.
The events take place from 1984 – the year of Trevor Noah’s birth – to 2009 – the year when his mother was shot. However, Trevor presents different settings and focuses on life before, during, and after apartheid in South Africa.
Trevor Noah is the first-person narrator. His narrative voice fluctuates throughout the book and alternates from funny and ironic to nostalgic and inquisitive. Trevor’s comedic influence resurfaces throughout the book and entertains the readers, often functioning like a nozzle that helps him revise his more intense experiences.
The memoir highlights the power of language in surviving as a colored person in South Africa during apartheid and post-apartheid. Trevor explains that language offers people power and control, changing people’s perspectives and attitudes. Therefore, the concept of multilingualism plays an important role in the book.
You can read a full analysis of the book on the following pages.