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

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)


My Thoughts: Chinua Achebe's 'Things Fall Apart'

This is something different but as soon as I finished reading Things Fall Apart  I realised I didn't want to review a seminal text that has been read my millions and reviewed by many. I actually just wanted to share my thoughts on the book. While I know that Things Fall Apart is cliched and an obvious first choice for someone who has never read Chinua Achebe (I was initially going to read Arrow of God), I chose to read it when I realised that it was the first in a sort of trilogy and No Longer at Ease and Arrow of God featured the descendants of Okonkwo (the main character in Things Fall Apart). Once I knew that, I realised Things Fall Apart was an obvious first choice because I wanted to start at the beginning so I could understand the end.

Things Fall Apart tells the story of Okonkwo from Umuofia (one of nine villages inhabited by Igbo's in Nigeria). It focuses on his life in Umuofia with his three wives and children, his exile from his village, and finally his struggle with British colonialism and Christian missionaries.

The first thing I thought as I was reading it was 'I get the hype'. I get why people rave so much about this book, especially considering when it was written. Here is a book that was trying to inform the world that only knew of Africa as 'backwards', 'the Other', or as Joseph Conrad called it 'the heart of darkness'. The book introduced Igbo culture and traditions with meaning and value.  I also loved the way it was written, very clear and simple, and I especially loved the choice of formal language, which was portraying a different side of Africa and the African (or in the case Igbo) language.

The second was the themes. There were so many themes jumping out as I was reading. Okonkwo, for example, trying to resist the political, cultural and religious changes that were occurring. Masculinity was another. Okonkwo didn't want to be portrayed as weak, as a woman, as his father (who was weak). His own version of masculinity was aggression, anger, never showing any weakness. This was why he didn't think much of his first son, Nwoye, who he saw as effeminate, weak, and not a real man. What was interesting was how he kept on wishing that Ezinma, his daughter and favourite child, were a boy because she portrayed qualities that he felt men should possess. We are also shown alternative forms of masculinity from Okonwo throughout the novel.

When I finished reading I thought the same thing again 'I get the hype'. I really, really loved the book and the only thing I'm sad about is that it took me so long to finally read it. Now I am really looking forward to reading the rest of his 'African Trilogy'.


New Releases for 2012

Last year was a great year for African literature and this year is going to be as exciting. Here is a glimpse of some exciting 2012 works.

Chuma Nwokolo's The Ghost of Sani Abacha (January 2012) contains 26 short stories, 17 of which were previously unpublished.            

Ahdaf Soueif's Cairo: My City, Our Revolution (January 2012). Through a map of stories drawn from private history and public record Soueif charts a story of the Revolution that is both intimately hers and publicly Egyptian. 

Chibundu Onuzo's The Spider King's Daughter (March 2012) is a modern-day Romeo and Juliet tale set against the backdrop of a changing Lagos, a city torn between tradition and modernity, corruption and truth, love and family loyalty. Seventeen-year-old Abike Johnson lives in a sprawling mansion in Lagos, protected by armed guards and ferried everywhere in a huge black jeep. A world away from Abike's mansion, in the city's slums, lives a seventeen-year-old hawker struggling to make sense of the world.  When Abike buys ice cream from the hawker one day, they strike up an unlikely and tentative romance, defying the prejudices of Nigerian society. But as they grow closer, revelations from the past threaten their relationship and both Abike and the hawker must decide where their loyalties lie.

Nadine Gordimers' No Time Like the Present (March 2012) tells the story of Steve and Jabulile, an interracial couple living in a newly, tentatively, free South Africa. They have a daughter, Sindiswa; they move to the suburbs; Steve becomes a lecturer at a university; Jabulile trains to become a lawyer; there is another child, a boy this time. There is nothing so extraordinary about their lives, and yet, in telling their story and the stories of their friends and families, Gordimer manages to capture the tortured, fragmented essence of a nation struggling to define itself post-apartheid. 

Taiye Selasi is also set to release her debut novel Ghana Must Go sometime this year.

Judging a Book by its Cover: Different Book Covers in Different Countries

We have already ascertained that I love book covers, but what I find fascinating is how the covers that I am so familiar with look completely different in another region. I'm not quite sure which covers belong to which region (I only know some) but the first image of each book are the ones that I am familiar with. 

The Opposite House 

On Black Sisters' Street

The Famished Road

Black Mamba Boy

Tiny Sunbirds Far Away (Nigeria, UK 2011, UK 2012, USA) 

I Do Not Come To You By Chance 

Ancestor Stones

 Half Blood Blues


Book Review: Alaa al Aswany's 'The Yacoubian Building' (Translated by Humphrey Davies)

After reading the Memory of Love, I wanted something less intense. I also wanted a quick read - and what did I go for? A book about sex and power.

The Yacoubian Building, an actual landmark in Cairo, is a building where the rich and poor of Egyptian society can be found living or working. Poor Cairenes like Busanya and Taha live on the roof, while rich Cairenes like Hatim Rasheed, the homosexual editor of a popular French newspaper, live in the building. Businessmen and politicians are also found here, like Zaki Bey el Dessouki, who works and 'plays' in his office and Hagg Muhammad Azzam, a businessman and aspiring politician. Amongst the other characters linked to the Yacoubian Building are Abduh, Hatim's lover; Souad, Hagg Azzam's secret second wife; Abaskharon, Zaki Bey's 'help'; and Malik Khila, a shirtmaker and Abaskharon's brother.

Yes, there are a lot of characters in The Yacoubian Building, but it doesn't take long to get to know them. They each have their own story, they all have their own vices and their flaws, but really when it comes down to it they are all just trying to make it, whichever way they can, in Egypt. 

Not knowing much about Egyptian society, it was great to read a book that looked at homosexuality, power, corruption, religious fundamentalism, sex and love to name a few. I also enjoyed the lack of chapters - each characters story was separated by a symbol. It was really easy and quick to read, and one I would recommend, especially for those (like me) who are new to North African/Arab literature.

The Yacoubian Building has also been reviewed as part of the Africa and Middle East Reading Challenges.

4 out of 5 stars

I Absolutely Love Bookstores

Whenever I'm in a new city I love to check out the local bookstores for the simple reason that I absolutely love bookstores. So today I braved the freezing Canadian weather (that's what it looked like yesterday in Victoria) to explore the city, and obviously see the bookstores. 

This is Russell Books, which sells rare, used and out-of-print books. Absolutely beautiful - floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall books.

This is Munro Books, which is simply magnificent.

And even better I got this, and it came with a free bookmark :D. It's the simple things that make me smile. 


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