Tendai Huchu’s The Hairdresser of Harare [Book Review]
“If you truly love something (someone) then you must be willing to let that thing(person) go. No matter how hard”
Vimbai is Harare’s best hairdresser and it is an unarguable fact amongst fellow hairdressers and clienteles at Mrs. Khumalo’s hair salon. It doesn’t take long till a new threat surfaces to steal his way into her spotlight, making her second option which to her was as good as not being a hairdresser at all.
Having fallen out with her family,Vimbai lives as a single mother with her joyful daughter in a house which was an inheritance from a late brother. As a result of her position in the salon,her colleagues begin to see her as proud and unapproachable, which she finds absurd and discomforting on discovery. However she begins to feel uneasy and envious when handsome Dumisani shows up at the salon and steals everyone’s breath,save for hers,away with his unparalleled hairdressing techniques. She even more begins to feel deprived of a birthright when Mrs. Khumalo went on to make him manager.
But with a twist of fate,what was meant to be a competitive rivalry for position of best hairdresser, unfurls into an unpredicted (near) love story between the two when Vimbai offers Dumisani space at her mansion to become his landlady. Vimbai learns during the course of their living under same roof that Dumisani, as herself, had fallen out with his own family.
As the story unfolds,the two begin to get more acquainted and hate spans into friendship and friendship into something Vimbai had never hoped for. At a family wedding, Dumi bluntly introduces Vimbai as his girlfriend which served a shock to the entire Ncube household. Vimbai decides to play along and while basking in the affluence and comely nature of Dumi’s family,gets reunited with Philip,her daughter’s father whom she despises with all the bones in her body. Philip makes a mess of Vimbai’s evening, embarrassing her in front of the whole family and other affluent guests, making her feel like a common whore.
Despite knowing about Vimbai’s out-of-wedlock-child, the Ncube family decides to tolerate her wholeheartedly seeing she was the one who “cured” their beloved son from a deadly kind of illness which could have caused a dent on the family image.
Tendai Huchu’s novel does a brilliant job in highlighting prevalent struggles and occurrences in a contemporary Zimbabwe, as is evident in many other African countries. With Vimbai, Huchu shows us how corruption and “little palm greasing here and there”, and connections become a survival mechanism in a state that is bequeathed with hyperinflation and food shortages. We see this with Vimbai and Trina bribing their way through long queues to get packets of sugar,and with Michelle pushing “brick-like wads of money” to an official, maneuvering the snaking queue outside to get Vimbai a passport. And how this menace affects little street children who have no business getting a passport but occupy spaces in the queue which they later sell at a seemingly regulated price to any anxious individual.
Vimbai’s story somewhat looks like a fairytale, with Dumisani’s family accepting her,granting her wishes and all that. While in actual sense,Vimbai wouldn’t have gotten all that lucky had Dumisani not stepped into her life and based on the societal class stratification present in the community. Vimbai reminiscences how lucky she got during a short conversation with a maidservant at the Ncube’s residence,who she realized was almost as she herself should society be concerned. Vimbai, too,has a maid,Maidei whom she treats without regard,calling her stupid and all sort of degrading things at will. This gives a hint of a different kind of slavery(I tried to not use the word slavery but I couldn’t. Sorry)
Also,Huchu’s book touches on the deep,visceral homophobia engraved in some cultures. And how quick the society and religion is to criminalize these individuals and cast them off as putrid creatures, humans condescending below the level of a rabid dog.
“The Hairdresser of Harare” is a passionate novel about hardwork ,family,friendship and how love covers up a host of other imperfections. While I had a problem with the way which Huchu almost overstretched the book using involvements of superfluous melodramatic expressions at the ending of most chapters in a bid to maintain an already broken suspense, I think it is nonetheless a very brave, comedic and relevant novel.