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Non-fiction book roundup: Trevor Noah, Carrie Fisher and Tippi Hedren

TV host Trevor Noah’s stories of his boyhood in apartheid-era South Africa are fresh, revealing and funny.

If you enjoy Trevor Noah’s spirited hosting of The Daily Show, you’ll be astonished by what he reveals about his early years in BORN A CRIME: STORIES FROM A SOUTH AFRICAN CHILDHOOD (John Murray, $37.99). He immerses us in an apartheid-era culture where his mixed-race origins – German/Swiss father, Xhosa mother – must not officially exist. His life at once enabled, enriched and massively complicated by his extraordinary mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah, he spends much of the book delivering an affectionate portrait of this intelligent, iron-willed woman, as devoutly religious as she is aspirational.

He writes fluently; his style is fresh, witty and unpretentious as he guides us through some of the more bizarre manifestations of apartheid as he lived it, lets us glimpse the modus operandi of the street hustling and DVD piracy by which he supported himself, and shocks us with a graphic account of the shooting of his mother. The book ends abruptly as he is beginning to achieve career success as a comedian and TV host in South Africa; readers will want a follow-up volume.

Although she has worked consistently in film and TV since the 1960s, Tippi Hedren is best remembered as one of Alfred ­Hitchcock’s “cool blondes”. She starred in The Birds and Marnie, but found her real role was as Hitchcock’s intended love object. In TIPPI: A MEMOIR (HarperCollins, $36.99), she makes a meal out of ­anecdotes about fending off his unwelcome advances, but this is not your typical name-dropping movie-star recollection.

Hedren’s real passion was rescuing big cats, and the establishment of ­Shambala, her Soledad Canyon, California, refuge for lions, tigers, jaguars, cheetahs and other ­menacing beasts to keep about the house, makes up the bulk of the story. Obsessed by making a movie featuring her dangerous animal companions, she sinks every cent she has into a film called Roar, and the chronicling of its countless ­fiascos, calamities, injuries and disasters is an adventure story, of sorts, in its own right.

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia.

THE PRINCESS DIARIST (Bantam, $40), “a sort of memoir” that actress Carrie Fisher completed just before her recent untimely death, was spurred by finding three of the diaries she kept during the initial filming of Star Wars. Princess Leia proved to be her most enduring film role, one that came to define her career and shape her life. Her doesn’t-count-on-location romance with a married Harrison Ford counted very much at the time, and gives rise to much introspection and soul-searching.

Fisher is usually a sharp and ­revealing writer, but because she is still a ­teenager when the events unfold, the self-­absorption and self-exploration of the diarist are typical of any lively minded young woman thrust into the middle of events she only half understands.

Where the mature Fisher comes through most strongly is in her ­bittersweet recounting of what it’s like to (in her words) “lap dance” – that is, to attend Comic-Cons and ­similar events as a guest celebrity, struggling to maintain ­politeness while enduring Leia fans’ delirious ­conversations.

This article was first published in the February 18, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener. Follow the Listener on Twitter, Facebook and sign up to the weekly newsletter.