Every now and again I read a book that makes me stop and appreciate all that I have. One such book was The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu. This isn't nonfiction and isn't filled with dark themes in general. It tells the story of two hairdressers in Harare, Zimbabwe and societal prejudices. One is a male and from a privileged urban family, Dumisani. The other is female, a single mother, and from a poor rural family, Vimbai. Theirs is a story of endurance, jealousy, friendship and betrayal.
Vimbai is a 26-year-old single mother. She works reasonably hard at her craft and considers herself the best hairdresser in Harare. Her goal is to eventually own and operate her own salon, but for now she plods away working for Mrs. Khumalo. Vimbai has her own personal issues to deal with, such as becoming a single mother at age 19, raising her daughter alone because the father is married, and an estrangement from her family because her elder brother died and left her his home in Harare. She, and everyone else in the working 10%, must also deal with the overwhelming inflation rate and search for basic staples like sugar and cornmeal not to mention flickering electrical service and exorbitant utilities. Vimbai's status and security is threatened when Dumisani walks in to Mrs. Khumalo's salon, requests employment and gets it. Most of the new clients and a few of the older established clients all vie for Dumisani to work on their hair. Dumisani goes out of his way to befriend Vimbai, eventually becoming a tenant in her home and before long a very good friend. He invites her to a family wedding and their relationship moves from friendship to an engagement. Dumisani's family openly embraces Vimbai and her daughter because they feel that the relationship between Vimbai and Dumisani means he is "cured" (this is the first reference to Dumisani's homosexuality). Dumisani has kept a secret and it is a secret that could get him killed and threatens Vimbai's new found security.
I actually enjoyed reading The Hairdresser of Harare. I presumed it would be depressing given that it deals with prejudices, but it wasn't. Mr. Huchu incorporates the topics of racism, poverty, and prejudice in a very circumspect manner but he gets the point across. Vimbai isn't easy to like as a character but I think that's because of her flaws more so than anything else. Dumisani isn't as developed as Vimbai but he is likable. Both Vimbai and Dumisani have a certain naïveté about life and family that was actually refreshing. The only problems I had in reading this book was in understanding the names and foreign terminology (a personal hang-up...I like to not only understand but also know how to pronounce everything when reading). If you haven't read anything that might be classified as African Literature and want to start, then I recommend The Hairdresser of Harare. This was my first foray into this genre, as well as my first book by Mr. Huchu, and I hope it won't be my last for the genre and this author.
Disclaimer: I received this book free for review purposes from the author. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."