The Hairdresser of Harare is a book by Tendai Huchu, telling the story of Vimbai, Harare’s ‘top’ hairdresser. Her life takes a drastic turn one day when a young man called Dumisani comes into her life, taking not just her position, but invading all other areas of her life.
I like reading fiction – it allows me to visit places I’ve never been and look at life through the lenses of people I’ve never met. I particularly appreciate African authors for the stories they tell, especially when the stories are based in their countries. That being said, I found myself glued when I read the description:
Vimbai is the best hairdresser in Mrs. Khumalo’s salon, and she is secure in her status until the handsome, smooth-talking Dumisani shows up one day for work. Despite her resistance, the two become friends, and eventually, Vimbai becomes Dumisani’s landlady. He is as charming as he is deft with the scissors, and Vimbai finds that he means more and more to her. Yet, by novel’s end, the pair’s deepening friendship—used or embraced by Dumisani and Vimbai with different futures in mind—collapses in unexpected brutality.
Based on this description, I just knew I had to read it! And so I did.
I’ve been to African salons all through my life, and so I easily could get the gist of the daily occurrences and characters. I really loved the whole set-up!
Vimbai is a single mother, the most sought after hairdresser in her place of work, Mrs Khumalo’s salon. She’s very proud and believes strongly that she is irreplaceable. Her formula is simple – make women feel like white women. Give the customer what they want.
Thus, she struts into work whenever and has a ‘you need me’ attitude. However, she’s forced to change all this when Dumisani struts into the salon today and works on one of her customers, causing ripples to move through the salon. Dumisani is hired and she begins to feel her ‘irreplaceability’ slip out of her grasps. She hates him, but he doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Customers begin to pour in all in search of his magical hands, and she feels herself fade into irrelevancy. Yet, a relationship begins to bud between them as he needs to rent a room in her house. From then on, things take off, but eventually crash down.
I liked everything, from the characters to the setting to the story. First of all, I’ve never read a novel by a Zimbabwean author (I’ve read Sierra Leonian, Nigerian, Somalian, Ghanian), so that was awesome. That, and the fact the story was set in Harare, Zimbabwe. While the story went on, it also showed how sad the state of the country is through glimpses of the day-to-day activities of the characters.
Things like having to queue up for sugar, with things like tampons being scarce really made me sad. I really wonder how the people of Zimbabwe have been doing it. I appreciated the glimpse.
I liked the characters, and I wouldn’t say I had a favourite because they were all awesome. Vimbai was proud, but she’d been through a lot. She was a single mother struggling to make something out of herself while also raising her daughter. She also was struggling with her other family members – I liked that the story also touched on how greed can tear families apart. Vimbai is living in the house willed to her by her late brother, and her older brothers were outraged by this. They attempted to forcefully take the house but the police had to be brought into the matter. Why do people allow such things to destroy them?
I also liked that Dumisani was a guy. I remember when I first returned to Nigeria and I went to a salon in the market near my house. The hairdresser was a guy, and though I knew it wasn’t a new concept, I was still pretty shocked. I also wondered what it was like to be him, and how certain people would perceive him, or even question his sexuality, based on his profession. He’s a pretty good hairdresser though, and he owns the salon!
To me, the story started off well – depicting life in Zimbabwe and other social issues, but it also kind of turned cinderella-ish towards the end. What are the odds of a stinking rich guy coming to work in a salon and whisking you off your feet? Can that happen in real life? It reminded me of those movies and books where the hot popular and rich guy falls for the nerd. Then again, it is fiction, and I still enjoyed it.
The story also touched on life decisions we make, as well as one topic I haven’t seen explored much in African literature (because I’ve not read much) – homosexuality. I don’t like giving spoilers, so I’ll just let you read The Hairdresser of Harare for yourself!
Should You Read The Hairdresser of Harare?
I’d give The Hairdresser of Harare an 8/10. It was a nice read, and I’m giving 8 because I want to look like a ‘professional’ reviewer. I know left to me, I’d rate every book I read a 10 because I’m easily entertained. You should totally read it, it’s very entertaining, but the end is quite sad-ish. It’ll really have you thinking of certain issues and how you’d react to them.
Also, can we just show some love for that cover? I love good book covers! It’s so beautiful, and I like how in the afro there are buildings, hair styling tools and things that relate to what the story is about On point! The afro comb with the heart on the end is also a nice touch
After writing this review, I feel like embarking on a challenge – reading books from authors/set in every African country. I’d really love to see what they’d tell me! I mean, I don’t have coin for travelling yet, so why not start with books eh?
I hope you’ve enjoyed this review! If you want other reviews on books by African authors, check these out (click to read):