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‘The Hairdresser Of Harare’ by Tendai Huchu

Vimbai is a hairdresser, the best in Mrs Khumalo’s salon, and she knows she is the queen on whom they all depend. Her situation is reversed when the good-looking, smooth-talking Dumisani joins them. However, his charm and desire to please slowly erode Vimbai’s rancour and when he needs somewhere to live, Vimbai becomes his landlady. So, when Dumisani needs someone to accompany him to his brother’s wedding to help smooth over a family upset, Vimbai obliges. Startled to find that this smart hairdresser is the scion of one of the wealthiest families in Harare, she is equally surprised by the warmth of their welcome; and it is their subsequent generosity which appears to foster the relationship between the two young people.

The ambiguity of this deepening friendship – used or embraced by Dumisani and Vimbai with different futures in mind – collapses in unexpected brutality when secrets and jealousies are exposed. Written with delightful humour and a penetrating eye, The Hairdresser of Harare is a novel that you will find hard to put down.

TENDAI HUCHU

Tendai Huchu was born in 1982 in, Zimbabwe. He attended Churchill High School in Harare and from there went to the University of Zimbabwe to study Mining Engineering. He dropped out in the middle of the first semester, found work briefly in a casino and from there drifted from one job to the next.  Four years later he returned to university and is now a Podiatrist living in Edinburgh, Scotland. Tendai has a great love of literature, in particular the nineteenth century Russian novel.

Tendai has recently published two books in quick succession; The Hairdresser of Harare was his debut novel, closely followed by an eBook, An Untimely Love, a thriller with a romantic twist, dealing with yet another difficult issue, namely the  cultural, religious and political conflicts that surround Islam in the modern world.

There is a brief reading from ‘The Hairdresser Of Harare ‘ and an audio interview with Tendai on the BBC website, which you can access from this link:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-17401504.

Catch up with all the latest news at Tendai’s website

Follow Tendai on Twitter

WORDS FROM THE BOOK

There’s only one secret to being a successful hairdresser and I’ve never withheld it from anyone. Your client should leave the salon feeling like a white woman.

I have told this to everyone who’s ever asked me and what they all want to know is how d’you make someone feel like a white woman? The answer is simple, Whiteness is a state of mind.

Dumi said something and she smiled. I knew then that the secret which made him the best hairdresser in Harare was that he knew how to make anyone feel like a woman.

MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THE BOOK

‘All the prejudices of a divided Zimbabwe, with some of the lighter moments left in’

In his debut novel, Tendai Huchu has produced a cleverly crafted,  many faceted, multi-layered story, rich in storyline detail and character assessment, which highlights the political and social montage of a post-apartheid Zimbabwean population trying its hardest to survive the rule of a regime which relies on fear and oppression to maintain its control.

Rich with character and humor, The Hairdressser Of Harare,  is at once a gripping excursion through Zimbabwe’s landscapes and the poignant and often sad story of two people drawn together by mutual rejection from their respective families, illustrating only too vividly that wealth and position play no advantage in the human morality stakes, only in its ability to mask the truth and maintain a facade.

When we first meet Vimbai, she is a young woman who has plenty of history. Coming from an impoverished background, naive and beguiled by the bright lights, when she is raped and left pregnant by a philandering, smooth-talking rogue, she is disowned by her parents, for bringing shame on the family and is left to fend for herself and her child. She guards her daughter jealously, vowing to afford her every opportunity in life to better herself and with her innate sense of pride and determination to improve their quality of life, she takes full advantage of every opportunity afforded to her. From time to time we see this desire to rise up the social scale, overtake her thinking and start to question her morality. However, as her character grows and matures during the course of the several months we get to know her, we see her learn to temper her selfishness and impetuosity with compassion and understanding, as she defies the rules of convention to help the  friend who has changed her life forever, whilst potentially putting her own life in danger. She also learns the valuable lesson that she has never been totally abandoned by her siblings, who willingly place themselves in danger to help guide her on the right path in dealing with her moral dilemma.

Dumi, is a young man with a secret which could cost him his life at any point in time. He is from a wealthy and influential ‘party’ family, supremely confident in himself and his abilities, brash … BUT … deep down, a coward. When he is disowned by his family, who have their suspicions about his secret life, Dumi is quick to survive and prosper by his own wit and talent, never once taking into account the feelings and circumstances of the people he is walking over to achieve this. He clearly has some affection for Vimbai, however he is basically using her as a cover story, in his bid to ingratiate himself back into his parents lives. It isn’t that he particularly craves their acceptance, as he is like Vimbai in that he already has the love and acceptance of his sibling, however he does desire the large allowance they once afforded him and the trappings of their wealth and influential position. He places Vimbai in an almost impossible position, making promises which he knows that he will ultimately be unable to fulfill, then when the going gets tough and his secret threatens their very lives, he leaves her to discover the truth for herself, rather than being a man about things and telling her himself.

Reconciliation between the young couple, comes swiftly, but at a price which will leave them both at a turning point in their lives. Decisions have to be made and actioned quickly and both ultimately need to assess what is most important to them.

The secondary characters all either love to be liked, or like to be hated and feared, but all are richly described and fulfill distinct and important roles in the overall story of the two main protagonists.

The whole experience of reading the excellent social commentary which is,  ‘The Hairdresser Of Harare’, has  shown me a portrait of a country, ruled by a  repressive and cruel regime, where many of its people live in constant fear of the authorities and to speak out or go against the ‘norm’ means certain retribution. It also only serves to highlight the huge gap between the have’s and the have not’s and the utter brutality dealt out to those who dare to challenge the prescribed moral and social codes of society, by both the authorities and one’s own social peers.

This unforgiving landscape does also produce some lighter, humorous interludes and exchanges, from a populace which despite everything, is trying desperately hard to keep cheerful and make the best of their everyday lives, adding a great tenderness and poignancy to the story.


There is perhaps one area of the story which I wish had been more fully expanded upon, and that is the ending itself. Whilst I can fully appreciate the way that Dumi’s exit was played out and led to a natural closure for his character, I found my mind full of questions about the fate of Vimbai and what the future might hold for her.

Tendai, with his smooth writing style, authentic and genuine characters  has undoubtedly produced a work of contemporary fiction entwined with some subtle humour and innuendo, but scratch the surface and I see a forceful and strong piece of political and social satire.


As this was an author invitation to read and review, a complimentary download of The Hairdresser of Harare, was sent to me by Tendai Huchu.

This will in no way influence any comments I may express about the book, in any blog article I may post. Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article.

I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a 4 out of 5.


Written by
Yvonne

I can’t remember a time, even as a child, when I haven’t been passionate about books and reading.
I began blogging, when I realised just how many other people out there shared my passion for the written word and I have been continually amazed at the wealth of books that are available and the amount of great new friends I have made, from literally 'The Four Corners Of The World'.

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7 comments
  • Hi everyone and I hope that you are all having a relaxing Sunday!

    Just thought that I would share with you the pertinent section of an email I have just received from Tendai Huchu, the successful author of ‘The Hairdresser Of Harare’.

    I don’t know about my review ‘making his Sunday’ …. his lovely response and kind words, have definitely made mine ….

    “I am grateful to you for having taken the time to read and review the book, even more so as you were going through this painful period. Your website is very popular and I haven’t come across a reviewer who blogs about little chunks from the book before the review, but there have been a lot of positive responses for which I am very grateful. The review itself is very kind, and very thoughtful. You have no idea how much this warms an author’s heart. And whilst the book has received a few good reviews, yours is different in that you are one of the rare people that has recognised the social and political commentary woven into the story. Most reviews fixate on the gay issue, which is important, but miss the wider context in which the story is set, so I am grateful that you have seen this.
    I agree with you on the ending, in fact, a teacher in Germany once sent me some essays done by her students, offering alternative endings to the book (some of which were very optimistic and idealistic!!!). I deliberately left it hanging, An Untimely Love has a hanging ending too, and it seems the book I am working on now may have something similar. Teju Cole begins his book Open City with the words, And So, in an interview he said this was because he felt that every story begins in the middle. Perhaps I should have ended the book with, And then…

    I really appreciate you taking the time to read my work, and offering your thoughts on it. You have made my Sunday.

    Tendai :)”

  • What an impressive review of such an intense and complicated book. I shall certainly look out for it.

    It reminded me of the only book I’ve read set in Zimbabwe – An Elegy for Easterly by Petina Gappah, a collection of short stories. Death and sickness figure quite prominently in most of the stories and the book as a whole, although laced through with ironic humour, is a lament – a lament for Zimbabwe and its suffering people. I wrote more about it in this post – http://www.booksplease.org/2009/05/03/sunday-salon-an-elegy-for-easterly-by-petina-gappah/.

    • Hi Margaret,

      Thanks so much for the comments, I really appreciate them.

      ‘The Hairdresser Of Harare’ was quite an insightful look into the plight of the average Zimbabwean citizen, whilst also affording us a glimpse into the so vastly different lives of the rich and privileged.

      It does also go to show that wealth and privilege cannot always overcome emotions and the inevitable slide into the depths of despair and depravity, which will be the ultimate outcome.

      I checked out your post ‘An Elegy For Easterly’ and was as captivated by the cover, as I was appalled by the stories you chose to highlight.

      I don’t read much in the way of short stories, however I suspect that the length of many in this book, will be more than sufficient to give more than a flavour of the graphic suffering in post apartheid Zimbabwe.

      A definite for my reading list anyway.

  • What a wonderfully written review Yvonne. I had been curious about this book since I saw you mention it here before. It sounds like Dumi and Vimbai are interesting characters and like this is one of those books that makes for a good discussion. I like those quotes you shared.
    And how lovely of the author to email you such a nice response.

    • Hi Naida,

      I agree that it is certainly a book that would make for good discussion, the kind of thing that a book club or reading group would have plenty to talk about.

      There were just so many words and phrases that sum up the emotions of the characters so well, that it was really difficult to choose just a couple, but I felt that much of the perception of the everyday people can be felt in the meaning of those few sentences.

      It is always gratifying when an author takes the time and trouble to give feedback on a review. After all, they are really the only ones who know exactly what messaging and story that they want their reading audience to enjoy. I also believe that it adds to a good discussion to have the author participate and maybe offer a slightly different perspective to the conversation. I really want to read Tendai’s other book ‘An Untimely Love’, as that also sounds quite a complex storyline, about another controversial area of the world.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for the lovely comments, I always appreciate them and love to hear from you. I hope that all is well with you.

  • Not a book I’ve heard of before it featured here, but it certainly sounds like an interesting and indepth read. I love the cover and would definitely pick it up off the shelf.

    A touching email from the author, too. 🙂

    I hope you’re well.

    • Hi Nikki,

      All is well here in Somerset, thanks for asking. Dad is coping quite well, after my mum’s death a couple of weeks back and seems remarkably resilient, considering his age (86).

      I was really touched by the email that Tendai wrote back as well, it has to be one of the nicest to date and offers some insight into what the messaging was that he was actually hoping to achieve from the book.

      This was certainly the kind of book that I would never have actively gone out and purchased, but I am so glad that I was given the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and read ‘The Hairdresser Of Harare’

      Many of my review opportunities come directly from the authors and I find that more often than not, the books that they are offering for review, are out of the mainstream genres. At first I wasn’t too sure about this concept, but now I can honestly say that I look forward to the challenge of trying something a little different.

      Thanks for stopping by and I hope that you had a fantastic time down in London, you certainly have been gadding about just lately. I hope that you have picked up some great new recommendations for authors and books!

Written by Yvonne

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