By: Peace Osemwengie
Title: The Hairdresser of Harare
Author: Tendai Huchu
Publisher: Weaver Press, Zimbabwe (2010), Ohio University Press (2015)
The hairdresser of Harare is a book that is sweet, sentimental and yet daring for its setting. Written by Tendai Huchu, a Zimbabwean, who currently lives in Edinburgh, it is a beautiful book that leaves the reader thinking about the what-ifs and whatnots of African tradition and sentimentalism. The book was voted an Observer top 10 Contemporary African book in 2012 and shortlisted for the Guardian Prize in 2011. The author is a Caine Prize finalist.
The book is narrated by Vimbai, the best and smartest hairdresser in Harare, and consequently in the whole country. She is a single mother who is estranged from her family and wishes that they would all forget the past and move on with life. She is the queen bee at Khumalo’s hair salon until the arrival of the secretive, yet friendly and intriguing Dumisani. Vimbai is threatened by Dumisani’s success and is wary of him. Dumisani is engaging, innocent of Vimbai’s anger and tries to improve her skill set. Soon the ice melts, and a tentative bond of friendship is formed and soon becomes strengthened by their increasing closeness. Soon, secrets come into light and Vimbai and Dumisani have to pick sides in a seemingly pointless war.
The book is melodramatic and is set amidst the political tensions of modern Zimbabwe. It explores the effect of greed, corruption and power on people, even as far as the smallest social unit, the family. Yet, it is not didactic in its political narrative, it teases and saunters off to present vivid imagery of the elite life in Harare. Its ending may have not been unsurprising, but it is enough to arouse a never ending chain of thoughts in the African reader’s mind.