Book Review: The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu

Book Review: The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu 

The place is Zimbabwe, more specifically Harare,  and the time, anything within the past decade. The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu is the story of Dumisani as narrated by Vimbai, a hairdresser living in Harare.

The novel is a social commentary on the harsh realities of contemporary African life. Against the backdrop of low employment rate, incessant robberies, high cost of living and what have you, Vimbai carves a niche for herself in hairdressing. She is the star hairdresser in Mrs Khumalo's salon, a title which she says consequently means the best hairdresser in all of Zimbabwe.

But Vimbai finds her somewhat perfect career threatened when the extremely gifted, handsome, friendly Dumi walks through the door of that salon. But as time would tell, he's everything and some more.

For a simplistic novel with its seemingly 'girls' talk' aura, The Hairdresser of Harare dares to offer some insights, albeit somewhat inconsequential, into a matter as complex as homosexuality in Africa.

But I have some issues with how it is done. The author, for example, resolves Vimbai's homophobia through, of all ways, Philosophy, as if to say Philosophy is the means to curing hate for homosexuals. And he does this with no subtlety as if he were afraid we could miss his ingenious point if it were any less clear.

Vimbai, who discovers Dumi's sexuality and ultimately outs him to Minister M_, is suddenly turned around after her brother, a self proclaimed philosopher, discusses the whole concept under an isolated tree with most of his fellow philosophers leaving because of what I suppose is their refusal to see his way of reason.

The novel is not afraid to shed some light on the post colonial complexities that have become Africa. It is clear from the novel that what Zimbabwe, specifically, and Africa, in general, have become is still very linked to colonialism. In many cases, African countries are a wreckage from their colonial days.

The narrative choice of the author, his language amongst other things, renders the book too emotionless, especially for a novel that is reliant on the feelings of its narrator as an anchor to the plot.

The Hairdresser of Harare is nevertheless entertaining and very engaging with its simple enough language and plot. It proved a real page-turner to this reader perhaps because it's a familiar story about ambition and getting a big break - the kind we all wish for.

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