Book Review: Tendai Huchu's 'The Hairdresser of Harare'

by - 22:59

I didn't know what to expect when I started reading The Hairdresser of Harare. From the synopsis I knew it was about two hairdressers in Harare - Vimbai, a seasoned pro and possibly the best hairdresser in Harare and Dumisani, a new-comer to the salon who is as charming as he is handsome. That is all I knew. But I did love the premise of the book. In Africa (well I won't generalise as I do not know about the rest of Africa), so I rephrase, in Nigeria hairdressing is seen as female profession but I know that male hairdressers are not uncommon and I loved that this was a book looking at a male hairdresser (I am interested in the concept of men doing 'women's work' and what this says about socially constructed gender roles and expectations).

Vimbai initially dislikes Dumi as he becomes the top dog at Mrs Khumalo's Hair Salon, but with time she starts to warm up to him when he becomes a tenant in her house. Friendship, and then love blossoms. But underneath it all, Dumi has a deep dark secret. Can I be honest, I kind of had a suspicion of what Dumi's secret was very early on in the book - and no, him being a hairdresser isn't what gave it away. Tendai Huchu actually dropped very subtle hints throughout the book which I picked up. Even though I had my suspicions, I still loved the build up to the reveal.

*SPOILER ALERT!!!! (Please don't go any further if you haven't already read this book. If  you have, feel free to proceed)

I loved the way Tendai Huchu portrayed the Zimbabwean society - the elites, the hyperinflation, the covert tactics people adopted to gain access to food  - but most important the way he tackled the issue of homosexuality. Zimbabwe is known to be an extremely homophobic society (as is much of sub-Saharan Africa). This is a country where Robert Mugabe said that homosexuals were 'worse than pigs and dogs', and here is a book writing about homosexuality. I didn't particularly like Vimbai's character, as the book went on I began to warm up to her, but that changed again when I was confronted with her prejudice towards homosexuality and the way she initially handled it. Dumi, on the other hand, I loved. I also felt his plight - to live in a society where you have to hide who you are must be heartbreaking. 

This is a really quick read and I would recommend to anyone interested in a book that looks at modern-day Zimbabwe and the issue of homosexuality. 

4 out of 5 stars

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