The Hairdresser of Harare

Tendai Huchu (Ohio University Press)

click to enlarge 'The Hairdresser of Harare'
'The Hairdresser of Harare'

This curious novel tells the story of a hairdresser in modern Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, written by a podiatrist who lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. The podiatrist is in fact from Zimbabwe and writes stories as well as takes care of feet. This, his first novel, is a look at the society of his home country, in flux but persevering. It is told in the first person by Vimbai, the hairdresser herself, and reflects the economic fragility of a nation struggling to find its feet as well as the seemingly timeless personal problems of society at large, so easily exposed in the beauty parlor atmosphere.A reasonably acute reader may foresee the development of the plot but will continue anyway, as by this time the characters involved have become interesting and there’s a desire to know if the guess is right. Very likely it is, and the innocence of the hairdresser is an indication of societal strictures in this community with African and European influence. It’s the mixture of the two that the reader takes away, along with recognition that basic longings are much the same in any culture. Vimbai is appealing and likeable, although not strong on humor; Dumisani, her male coworker and eventual house- mate, is a winning fellow. We also come to know Vimbai’s nicely portrayed young daughter and others in high places and low. The difficulties of rampant inflation are reflected; people carry blocks of bills that sometimes no one bothers to count and payment much ahead of time is not an option. The imposition of other cultures is found throughout the book. Vimbai wonders: Has independence caused a greater burden than colonial oppression?Huchu is not a polished novelist but makes us care about his characters anyway, and the glimpse of life in a country and society so far from our own is revealing in both its similarities and differences. Grade: B

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