Thoughts: The Hairdresser of Harare

hairdresser

The hairdresser of Harare is Vimbai, the best in Mrs. Khumalo’s salon. Vimbai is unmarried with a young daughter, but with a place in a good neighborhood, a house help and her job, things are going well and her talent draws customers to the salon. That is until another hairdresser, the smooth-talking Dumisani starts at Mrs. Khumalo’s salon. Initially theratening her job security and losing Vimbai her role of queen bee, she loathes Dumisani, but slowly the start becoming friends and when Dumisani needs a place to stay, Vimbai becomes his landlady.

Huchu’s first novel is set in post-apartheid Zimbabwe during mounting economic problems and a 90% unemloyment rate. Vimbai and the other women in the salon are trading petrol and sugar and there are problems with white farmers trying to hang onto their farms after independence while government officials are seizing the property. These issues are very much present but the “issue” focus of The Hairdresser is on homosexuality, its illegality and views of gay men as “lower than pigs and dogs.”

I very much enjoy characters that are not easily likeable and Vimbai with her pride and some terrible mistakes is a complex character and it is great to see her grow and become more aware. Her views will often be hard to take but the author shows where she is coming from and presents the difficulty women like Vimbai experience at the hands of men.

While Vimbai and Dumisani become closer and Vimbai is enthusiastically embraced by his family, as readers we can see where their thoughts on their future diverge. Dumisani brings larger issues into Vimbai’s life and from there things begin to unravel. I feel that perhaps the ending could have benefitted from a few more pages, it is a bit sudden but perhaps the salon life and little power struggles between the hairdressers in the first half of the book were just that well-written. The novel has been described as “bittersweet,” and this is a fitting term, so enjoy this one but be prepared for some bitterness.

This is a difficult one to write about without spoiling too much! I hope you’ll give the book a try, I know I’ll look out for Tendai Huchu’s future works! I chose The Hairdresser of Harare for Kinna’s Africa Reading Challenge and I think it might actually be the first book set in Zimbabwe and also written by a Zimbabwean author that I’ve read. But I do have another one, We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo, on my list.

Other thoughts:

Reading on a Rainy Day

Have you read this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

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17 thoughts on “Thoughts: The Hairdresser of Harare

  1. I haven’t read any books set in Zimbabwe, so thanks for the recommendation!
    The setting and time period look fascinating. I recently cleaned up my TBR and deleted books that have been sitting there fore years. Now it’s more manageable, but I feel like I’m going to add more books even faster now that I follow so many book blogs. 😡

    1. Haha oh yes us book bloggers are terrible for tbr lists, but at least you add to your readers’ tbr lists too and so spread the joy 😀
      I really enjoyed this one and it’s under 200 pages, so a quick read with weighty issues. Check out NoViolet Bulawayo, too, she is a Zimbabwean writer as well!

  2. Oh, I have both this one and We Need New Names on my list of books to read this year. I’m looking forward to both, but especially The Hairdresser now, because I love bittersweet books.

    1. This one is certainly bittersweet, I hope you’ll enjoy it! Ooh really excited about We Need New Names! Hope you’ll enjoy them both, we’ll have to compare notes 🙂

  3. Wonderful review, Bina! I don’t think I have read a book written by a Zimbabwean author or set in Zimbabwe. The closest I can say is that I used to follow a Zimbabwean book blogger in my initial years of blogging. This book looks quite interesting because of the period it is set in. Zimbabwe and South Africa probably had pasts which were similar in some ways, but their history has turned out differently (I remember my father telling me that Britain played a big role in helping Zimbabwe become a democracy with equal rights for all citizens, in the late ’70s / early ’80s, much before South Africa.) But post that, Zimbabwean history has turned out to be complex and has led to polarizing opinions. Mugabe who was regarded as a freedom fighter, fighting against the apartheid regime in the late ’70s, is now regarded as a power hungry tyrant himself. The name of the main character Vimbai, made me smile 🙂 I don’t know whether she is Black Zimbabwean, but names like this which end with ‘bai’ are quite common Indian-Gujarati women names and there were a lot of Gujarati immigrants living in Africa once upon a time. When I read about Vimbai, I imagine a Gujarati woman who is a single mom, who has household help, who is a star at the hairdressing salon and who suddenly has a rival at work and who doesn’t respond to it well initially 🙂 Thank you for telling me about this book.

    1. Thanks so much Vishy, that is interesting to hear! Yes it is unbelievable about Mugabe, who seems to never want to retire! Apparently now he wants to do something about Zimbabwean ressources being sold for a pittance when it’s almost too late. Like many others they went from colonialism to economic colonialism.
      How interesting about the name Vimbai! Heh yes she is Black Zimbabwean but now I at least know about Gujarati women, thanks for telling me 😊 Hope you’ll enjoy this book!

  4. This one sounds interesting, Bina. Until I read your blog, I didn’t know that ‘We Need New Names’ was written by a Zimbabwean author. I have a copy too. I am going to try reading it soon.

    1. Yay! I’m very excited for that one as well! I think I will need to take long walks, I only have access to it as audiobook 😀

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