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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Hairdresser of Harare

Tendai Huchu

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To purchase The Hairdresser of Harare

Title: The Hairdresser of Harare
Author: Tendai Huchu
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010
Length: 189 pages
Availability: The Hairdresser of Harare - US
The Hairdresser of Harare - UK
The Hairdresser of Harare - Canada
The Hairdresser of Harare - India
Le meilleur coiffeur de Harare - France
Der Friseur von Harare - Deutschland
Il parrucchiere di Harare - Italia

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Our Assessment:

B : a bit simplistic, but solid writing and an interesting glimpse of contemporary Zimbabwe

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 8/3/2013 Jane Housham
The Independent . 27/4/2013 David Evands
The NY Times Book Rev. . 16/8/2015 Mary Helen Specht
The Standard . 13/11/2010 Fungai Machirori
The Times . 7/9/2010 Jackie May

  From the Reviews:
  • "Tendai Huchu's tale of rivalry between two hairdressers in contemporary Zimbabwe is an entertaining comedy of manners and class, an education in the shocking ruination of Zimbabwe by the Mugabe regime, and a reminder of the visceral intensity of homophobia in some cultures." - Jane Housham, The Guardian

  • "Tendai Huchu's excellent novel deftly mixes a touching narrative with sharp social commentary. The construction is deceptively simple" - David Evands, The Independent

  • "The Hairdresser of Harare, while uneven, provides a fresh and moving account of contemporary Zimbabwe. (...) While the novel doesn’t become didactic in its portrayal of complex sociopolitical issues, it never fully engages with them either. (...) The Hairdresser of Harare ultimately wins us over with the vividness of its setting and characters, and with its reminder of the multitude of rich stories to be found in their daily lives." - Mary Helen Specht, The New York Times Book Review

  • "You will find this book a treat if you enjoy easy reads that discuss Zimbabwean society in a contemporary light. You will also enjoy it if you have a liking for some parody of Zimbabwe’s politics and its politicians. (...) Thankfully, Huchu does not dilute the novel’s plot with convoluted explanations about Zimbabwe’s economic and political situation. (...) All in all, The Hairdresser of Harare is a great achievement and a refreshing addition to Zimbabwe’s growing body of post-2000 literature." - Fungai Machirori, The Standard

  • "The book was mostly a pleasure to read, but it becomes annoying when Vimbai confronts, and challenges, her prejudice towards homosexuality. To interrupt a perfectly good story line with pages of didactic writing is a pity." - Jackie May, The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Hairdresser of Harare, set in the hyperinflationary Zimbabwe of a few years ago, is narrated by Vimbai, a hairdresser in her mid-twenties who is unmarried but has a young child. She works at Mrs. Khumalo's salon, and since she is considered the best hairdresser in town can afford to be a bit of a diva -- always arriving late, for example. Her position is challenged, however, when there's a vacancy at the salon, and a young man named Dumisani comes to fill it, immediately wowing one and all with this talents.
       Dumi makes the salon even more of a success, but he immediately becomes the undisputed number one there (and is also appointed manager), and Vimbai has some trouble adjusting to the situation. But Dumi is a decent guy and makes several gestures to make sure she feels included; Vimbai in turn comes to offer him a place to stay when he has to move and so they actually soon wind up living together.
       Vimbai's circumstances are somewhat unusual: she does have her own house, which her brother, who worked in England, left to her, but the fact that she got the house angers most of her family and she is estranged from them. Meanwhile, the father of her child no longer contributes to the household -- meaning that she always has money worries -- and she remains obviously marked by this cad's behavior, remaining very wary of men:

I hadn't been in a relationship for six years and had no intention of changing that. Men didn't appeal to me any more. They couldn't be trusted.
       Her experiences with the father of her child obviously had a lot to do with that, and she's found it very hard to get over that. The presence of Dumi in the house does eventually complicate matters, as they become close while not becoming truly intimate. That's just fine with Vimbai, who doesn't want to just be used by a man, as happened last time around -- but it leaves her blind to why Dumi isn't being a bit more assertive.
       When Dumi takes Vimbai to his brother's wedding his family welcomes her with open arms -- and welcomes Dumi back into the fold. It seems he comes from a prominent and very wealthy family, but he too had been estranged from them. The underlying issue -- and the notion that Vimbai has 'cured' him -- isn't something Vimbai troubles herself too much about -- making for all the greater shock for her when she finally puts two and two together (which actually involves her reading Dumi's journal: she literally needs it to be spelled out for her, since she otherwise remains blind to what's right in front of her eyes).
       What the big issue is can't come as a surprise to any reader -- and, indeed, the story might have been a bit more effective in this regard if Dumi weren't a hairdresser; he's not exactly flamboyant, but that is certainly one very suggestive stereotype. Vimbai's reaction is plausible, given how completely blind she had been to the situation; matters are also complicated by the fact that Dumi's family has been extraordinarily generous to her, and that with the withdrawal of that support her future would again be jeopardized.
       If basically a somewhat melodramatic story of single motherhood, professional rivalry, and romantic-sexual complications, The Hairdresser of Harare does hold more than average appeal: the writing is solid throughout, and Huchu is especially good in describing conditions in Zimbabwe at the time. Politics remains in the background , but can't help but intrude: a female minister plays a significant role (and has thugs at her beck and call), and there's even a cameo by an even more prominent figure from the regime. Meanwhile, Vimbai repeatedly makes small observations, showing how the hyperinflationary conditions make day to day life complicated in these very desperate times. Among the wrenching images is her description of her brother's funeral:
On the day of the burial, before we had lowered him down, men stepped forward to bash the coffin and scar it so it would be of no value for anyone who might be thinking of digging it up and selling it. Despite that there was a risk his suit would be stolen.
       Because of the daily plummeting value of the currency, when a customer wants to plan ahead for his wife's anniversary they can't settle on a price, explaining:
     "We'll have to charge you on the day, because anything you give us now will be worthless by then."
       As one character observes about Zimbabwe:
     It's funny how we seem trapped between modernity and the past. We have power lines yet half the time no electricity runs through them. We have cars, but no petrol to run them on, mobiles but the network is intermittent.
       Vimbai is also exposed to what privilege and connections still allow for in this country, from jumping the queue at the passport office to the luxury some people still live in -- and the ruthless power of those with the best government connections.
       Huchu's social and political critique is, for the most part, effective because he largely limits himself to describing conditions, rather than calling for specific change. The Mugabe regime is omnipresent here -- indeed, high-level representatives of it figure in the story -- but there are no characters who call for revolution (or even new elections ...). Describing the situation suffices to get the point across that the regime has failed and made for intolerable conditions. The secondary social-cultural critique, of the treatment of homosexuality, isn't quite as effective, because Huchu is more obviously trying to make a point here, and doesn't manage quite as well with it. Still, all in all, The Hairdresser of Harare is a fine novel of contemporary Zimbabwe.

- M.A.Orthofer, 17 June 2012

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The Hairdresser of Harare: Reviews: Tendai Huchu: Other books by Tendai Huchu under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books from and relating to Africa

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About the Author:

       Tendai Huchu was born in Zimbabwe in 1982.

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© 2012-2021 the complete review

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