Monday, 7 February 2011

HAIRDRESSER OF HARARE by Tendai Huchu

This is a really charming little tale of contemporary Zimbabwe.

We've recently discussed in this blog (here) how much Zimbabwean literature is about either a) the war or b) ticking the boxes of international interest. THE HAIRDRESSER OF HARARE triumphantly does neither.

The story focuses on Vimbai, a top hairdresser at Mrs Khumalo's salon. Her life changes when their first ever male hairdresser, Dumi, begins work at the salon, and proves to be serious competition. He is however a pleasant and retiring man, and eventually becomes her lodger. He invites her to a family wedding, and she is surprised by the great wealth of his family (from whom he is mysteriously estranged), and also by the fact that he refers to her as his girlfriend.

She begins to come round to this idea, and he becomes a big part of her life. She does indeed eventually become his girlfriend - in all ways except the pesky physical.

I think you can guess that this well-dressed hairdresser, with little interest in Vimbai, is as G-A-Y as you like. She is horrified, and when she discovers that he has a high profile lover in the government, lets his wife know. Dumi is duly beaten to a pulp by the CIO, and Vimbai is filled with remorse. In at not very believable turn of events, he forgives her, and then somewhat more believably, flees the country.

So, an interesting tale, well told. Lots of very sharp comic writing, with a warm heart behind it. Most impressive though is its lively and unselfconscious evocation of contemporary Harare. The kombis, the sugar queues, the Churchill boys; they are all handled with a lightly comic touch, and given a warm reality. The lack of 'explanation' (for some imagined international audience) is sort of remarkable. THE HAIRDRESSER OF HARARE is not perhaps a perfect book, but it is one with a genuine and unaffected contemporary Zimbabwean voice, and I haven't come across too damn many of those. So many congratulations to Mr Huchu.

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