“Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood,”by Trevor Noah

This New York Times bestseller, is the compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed

Born a Crime Cover Street View

Quotes from “Born a Crime”:

“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.” 

“People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing.” 

“The name Hitler does not offend a black South African because Hitler is not the worst thing a black South African can imagine. Every country thinks their history is the most important, and that’s especially true in the West. But if black South Africans could go back in time and kill one person, Cecil Rhodes would come up before Hitler. If people in the Congo could go back in time and kill one person, Belgium’s King Leopold would come way before Hitler. If Native Americans could go back in time and kill one person, it would probably be Christopher Columbus or Andrew Jackson.

“If you’re Native American and you pray to the wolves, you’re a savage. If you’re African and you pray to your ancestors, you’re a primitive. But when white people pray to a guy who turns water into wine, well, that’s just common sense.” 

“Language, even more than color, defines who you are to people.”

Born a Crime Another Quote

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?

Born a Crime Trevor-Noah-as-a-kid-in-South-Africa
Trevor Noah as a child growing up in South Africa

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?

Born a Crime Appar. Image

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?


Born a Crime Patricia Noah
Patricia Noah
Born a Crime Trevor-Noah-and-his-Mom
Source: FB/Trevor Noah posted this on Mother’s Day, 8 May – “On this day we celebrate you but everyday we honour you. The rock of the nation and the makers of men. Happy Mother’s Day, Momma.”

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?

Born a Crime Map of Languages
Map showing in which areas of the country the different African languages are spoken. Xhosa is purple
Born a Crime trevornoah-childhoodhome-soweto
Trevor Noah’s home in Soweto where his grandmother still lives.
Born a Crime Francis Noah (Grandmother)
Frances Noah, Trevor’s grandmother

5. 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?

Born a Crime Xhosa Women
Xhosa Women

6. 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?

Born a Crime Cain and Abel
“Cain Kills Abel,” by Palma Giovane

7. 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?

Born a Crime trevornoah-dog
Trevor Noah reading his book to his dog. His first dog was Fufi who was deaf. This dog, of course, is not Fufi who met her demise when a burglar knocked down a wall on top of her.


8. 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?

9. Finally, was the book meaningful to you?  If so, why?  Would you recommend it to other?

Born a Crime trevornoah-maryvalecollege
Trevor Noah’s Maryvale College school photo
Born a Crime Trevor-Noah-and-father
Trevor Noah and his father Robert

Born a Crime-Trevor N Quote (Bike)

Born a Crime soon to be a movie:


Fresh Air Podcast:


About the Author:

Born a Crime Time Cover

Trevor Noah is a South African comedian, television and radio host and actor. He currently hosts The Daily Show, a late-night television talk show on Comedy Central.


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