Born a Crime Summary & Study Guide

Trevor Noah
This Study Guide consists of approximately 43 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Born a Crime.
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Born a Crime Summary & Study Guide Description

Born a Crime Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion on Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.

The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Noah, Trevor. Born a Crime. Penguin / Random House / Doubleday, 2016.

The book, subtitled “Stories from a South African Childhood,” is a collection of the author’s recollections of his childhood and youth growing up in apartheid-era South Africa. Each chapter is prefaced with commentary (presented in bold font) that in most cases offers cultural or historical background (that is: commentary on the history and causes of apartheid in South Africa), but in some cases gives family or personal background to the chapter that follows.

The first part of the book focuses on the author’s childhood. He describes his complicated relationship with his tough-loving mother, who escaped her own poverty-ridden childhood because of her determination to live life on her own - often rule-breaking - terms, an attitude that she seems to have passed on to her son. The author also describes her powerful and unshakeable faith in God and Jesus, a faith that her son consistently challenged. As his relationship with his mother developed, the author writes, so did his experiences of being mixed-race: his mother was black, his father was white, and he (the author) was born at a time when two people from different races could be charged with a crime if they were caught having an intimate relationship. This, he says, was why he was kept indoors for much of his childhood: he could have been taken away from his mother and either or both of his parents (but most likely his mother) could have been imprisoned.

The second part of the book focuses on the author’s experiences when he was an adolescent. At the same time as he was discovering the complications of having relationships with, or at least attractions to, young women, he was also discovering more about the depths and dangers of being mixed race. He writes of a particular experience in which he and a black friend were witnessed committing an act of petty theft, a situation in which the friend suffered serious consequences that the author ultimately escaped because of the relative paleness of his complexion.

The third part of the book focuses on the author’s late teen years and young adulthood. He writes of discovering ways of making both money and friends, ways that transcended both his racial situation and the fact that, as he describes it, he was both poor and unattractive. He also writes of ways in which his hustling to make money got him into trouble, writing of one situation in particular that resulted in his spending time in jail, only to be bailed out by his mother.

In the final chapter of the book’s third part, the author writes in detail about his relationship with his mother’s husband Abel (she never married the author’s father), a traditionally-minded but talented car mechanic with a violent temper. The author describes the chain of circumstances that led first to his mother being physically assaulted, and then to him being likewise assaulted; the subsequent chain of events that led to his mother staying in the relationship and the author moving out; and finally, the chain of events that led to his mother being shot by Abel. The author writes of his mother surviving the shooting, of Abel escaping criminal punishment, and his mother’s ultimate belief that her life was saved because of her faith in Jesus.

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