Author: Tendai Huchu
Publisher: Freight Books/Weavers Press Zimbabwe
Year of publication: 2013/2010
Number of pages: 236
Tendai Huchu’s debut novel The Hairdresser of Harare is the story of two main characters; Vimbai and Dumisani. Vimbai is the star hairdresser at the Khumalo Hair and Beauty Treatment Salon in Harare, Zimbabwe and the story is told with her as the main character. She has a young daughter who she lives with in a home she inherited from a brother who was working in the UK before passing on. The home where she is living in with her daughter and house help is the reason she is estranged from her family as she refused to allow her brothers take over the one thing her brother left for her.
Her life is moving along fine with the usual things that a woman who works in a salon has to deal with, school fees colleagues et al, until Dumisani walks into the salon one day and all hell breaks looks. First off, Dumi quickly takes over the role of “best hairdresser” at MaKhumalo’s and our Vimbai is forced to changed her attitude as her job is no longer guaranteed as before.
The model employee Dumisani then sees a revolution at the salon, changing the posters they had hang around, changing the music to more mordern fare, starting to sell products for birth control and and and… The revolution is truly on. He even engineers it so that everyone gets a salary increase. With the successes MaKhumalo expands and opts to hire a manager for her salon and guess who gets the big job? Not former favourite Vimbai but new golden boy Dumisani.
It all looks bleak for Vimbai until Dumisani has to get a new place to live and he moves into Vimbai’s home as a tenant. The enemy at home now becomes an ally and they even start some sort of relationship. A relationship, platonic one mind you, that leads to her meeting her tenant and new “boyfriends” family which is a rich and prominent one.
Eventually she discovers some deep dark unpalatable secrets about the man who she is rapidly falling in love. I’ll give you a clue; the guy works as a hairdresser. He loves everything to do with fashion and hair. He will not have sex with a hot woman alleging that he will prefer to wait until marriage. He is a hairdresser. A “hairdresser.” Enough of a clue? Nothing? Then you can’t be helped.
The book deals with some amazing themes. One of the most striking of these is the legalese that an African lady has to deal with during inheritance. Our Vimbai has to battle with family, to the point of being estranged, to retain that which her brother left for her and her daughter. It really sucks that she has to lose her family to gain her financial independence but this is something that many women have to deal with when they lose a breadwinner. Then there is the issue of the young woman who is dazzled by an older man and conceives and now she has to take care of a child on her own.
Dumisani on the other hand has to deal with other issues. His “hairdressing” leads him to be ostracised by his family; after all “hairdressing” is unAfrican. His battle is painful to watch especially as one starts to understand how hard he has to work to survive whilst he was raised in the lap of luxury.
This is one of the better potrayals of the African “hairdresser” experience in an urban setting. The author has given us believable characters as well as a very believable salon where these characters operate from. I recognised the place that they were working in having being a customer of just such an establishment.
P.S. So Vimbai made her customers feel like white women which is why they kept coming back. How the hell does one make this feeling pass onto another via their hair?