Tendai Huchu’s The Hairdresser of Harare (published in 2010 by Weaver Press), is a touching story written in the voice of Vimbai, probably the “best” hairdresser in Harare. All ladies who have a standing in society visit the salon of Mrs. Khumalo to be served by the kind, attractive, professional Vimbai.
Then, one day, a charming, gorgeously looking young man walks into the salon and, enchanting the owner and the customers present, is hired on the spot.
It needed just one of Dumisani’s creative hair arrangements for Vimbai’s life to change forever. Two competing approaches to African hairdressing emerge: “He makes women feel great as women”, not giving them the illusion to be like white women. Is that what Vimbai has been doing? Can two styles co-exist, and, more importantly, can the two hairdressers work things out between them? And who is Dumisani, the mystery man?
Tendai Huchu keeps his story telling light and easygoing, with a good dose of humour and irony, as he explores the increasingly complex situation at the salon, its customers and suppliers, and, in flashback’s, fills in the backstory for Vimbai and her competitor.
The Hairdresser of Harare is for me first of all a human interest story centred on one young woman’s determination to look after herself and her young daughter in current day Zimbabwe. On top of her daily struggle to get by, she has to confront unexpected challenges that call into question her self-confidence, her relationships and, most importantly, her world view. All that makes the book a very engaging and meaningful read. Her situation and background are very convincingly captured and can be interpreted easily as an excellent illustration of the struggle many young women face in Harare, in Zimbabwe, and elsewhere in Africa.
Yet, there is more to the novel. Set against the difficult political, economic and societal conditions in the country, Huchu very effectively weaves his astute social commentary into the intimate account of Vimbai, without overwhelming the reader or slowing down the emerging drama that will take Vimbai completely by surprise. Love and loyalties are challenged and Vimbai will have to face the consequences of her actions. Huchu succeeds in bringing his range of characters to life and, above all, he creates an authentic voice with Vimbai.
The book’s publicity reveals, in my opinion, too much of one central dramatic component of the novel, however important it for the characters involved. To me it is an important integral part of the narrative flow of the story that is better discovered by the reader in due course.