The Hairdresser of Harare is the story of Vimbai, the queen bee of the hair salon where she works. Though she is estranged from her family after a dispute over money, Vimbai’s job gives her status and satisfaction at a time when unemployment is soaring and so is inflation. Then Dumi turns up.
Dumisani, a charming young hairdresser who has his customers announcing that they ‘look like Halle Berry’ when they look in the mirror, impresses Vimbai’s boss Mrs Khumalo straight away and soon Vimbai finds her crown slipping….
I enjoyed this book and I found Vimbai an engaging character. She is haughty and bossy and yet good hearted and vulnerable in a way that resonated a lot with me. Tendai Huchu paints a vivid picture of life in Harare, which goes on as normally as it can do given the inconvenience of lugging huge bricks of banknotes around with you, the scarcity of opportunity and the seeming impossibility of looking ten years ahead into the future.
Dumisani is keen to befriend Vimbai, despite her reservations about him and the pair get over their rocky beginning to find friendship blossoming – but Dumisani is not all he seems. Vimbai, in her innocence, has no idea of the nature of his secret, even though the reader surely will, but the success of the story doesn’t hinge on shocking plot twists and turns (although it is not without its surprise moments).
The Hairdresser of Harare is about capturing an atmosphere, a moment in time and place. Its characters are all ordinary in their own ways and yet they are not ordinary. No one is entirely good, no one is entirely bad – everyone has their reasons, their secrets, their scars – and this is what makes the book so readable. Huchu’s accessible style keeps the pages turning and I invested in his characters – they felt entirely real.
A quirky, likeable book with a great cover from a writer who can conjure up a real sense of atmosphere and authenticity. The Hairdresser of Harare is well worth a read.