Book review: The Hairdresser of Harare by: Tendai Huchu

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Denise Alicea

This blog was created by Denise in September 2008 to blog about writing, book reviews, and technology. Slowly, but surely this blog expanded to what it has become now, a central for book reviews of all kinds interviews, contests, and of course promotional venue for authors, etc

Title: Hairdresser of Harare
Author: Tendai Huchu
Author Website:Tendai Huchu
Genre: Contemporary relationships, African publishing
Publisher: Weaver Press
Price: not available
Link to Publisher:Link to publisher;/a

What I liked: “Dumisani, where are you? It’s Mrs. Khumalo, please call me when
you get this message, we are tired of waiting for you.” She hung up
the phone and sighed. “Maybe he has a problem.” We all cast each
other conspiratorial looks. This was not the boss we knew. How
could she be so tolerant with someone not showing up, and on his
first day, when we all knew there were hundreds of hairdressers looking
for work.

Women all over know that the hairdressing salon is not just a place to get a hairstyle. It is a place of intrigue, romance, jealousy, friendship, tension, support, and bonding. When the mysterious Dumisani takes a much coveted hairdressing job, his peers cannot understand why he fails to show up for work when so many are desperate for such a job. What is it that he has to hide? And how will Vimbai react when she learns more about Dumisani? Can Vimbai handle what she is about to find out?

Author Tendai Huchu delivers a powerful human story in her novel Hairdresser of Harare. Huchu writes of the struggles between powerful personalities in a tale that readers everywhere will relate to and enjoy. With strong characters and well-paced narrative, Huchu’s skilful and adept writing triggers emotional reactions as readers follow the twists and turns. Effectively using the hair salon as a backdrop, this integral piece of the novel takes on a life of its own, as it becomes a microcosm of life and love and the adventures of the heart and mind.

Book excerpt: I knew there was something not quite right about Dumi the very first time
I ever laid eyes on him. The problem was, I just couldn’t tell what it
was. Thank God for that.
There was a time that I was reputed to be the best hairdresser in
Harare, which meant the best in the whole country. Amai Ndoro was
the fussiest customer to ever grace a salon and she would not let any
ordinary kiya-kiya touch her hair. Having sampled all the salons in
Harare – and rejected them all – she settled on ours. The fussiest customer
was also the largest motor mouth and gossip-monger. Once
she was our client, we never needed to advertise again, as long as we
kept her happy. That was my job and why Mrs Khumalo paid me
the highest wage.
Khumalo Hair and Beauty Treatment Salon was in the Avenues, a
short walking distance from the city centre. We did hair but never
any beauty treatments. In any case I doubt any of us knew how to.
There was a rusty metal sign painted white with black lettering on the
front gate that pointed to our establishment. The rust, accumulated
over several rainy seasons, had eaten away so much of the sign that
only Khu—l-, a drawing of a lady with a huge afro and an arrow still
showed. Our customers didn’t need it, the directions were simple.

‘Go up from Harare Gardens, skip two roads, take a left, skip another
road and look for the blue house on your right, not the green one,
and you’re there.’ You’d have to be a nincompoop to miss it.
The front section of the house, which once served as a lounge, was
converted into an internet café with a dozen or so computers. You
could hear the fans humming and the shriek of the dialler from the
pavement across the road. Their prices weren’t too bad either, compared
to those at Eastgate or Ximex Mall. The rest of the main house
was used by the Khumalo family, all thirteen of them.
Our salon was at the back in what used to be the boy’s kaya, servant’s
quarters. From across the yard, the fragrant aroma of relaxers,
dyes, shampoos and a dozen other chemicals hit you. The smell
merged with the dust from the driveway and left something in your
nostrils that you couldn’t shake off until the next time you caught a
The building had been crudely extended. A wall had been knocked
down to the left and concrete blocks hastily laid to add another seven
metres. Such architectural genius had left us with a hybrid building,
the likes of which you could only find if you looked hard. The right
of the building was constructed of proper burnt bricks, professionally
built in every respect. You could see the dividing line where the
cheap concrete blocks had been used. Aesthetics aside, we were all
grateful for the accommodation though it rattled a little during heavy
Each morning I was greeted by Agnes with, “Sisi Vimbai, you’re
late again. Customers are waiting.” Mrs Khumalo’s eldest daughter
held the keys and opened shop.
I would make a sound like ‘Nxii’ with my lips and walk in without
greeting the cow. I hated her, she hated me twice as much and so
long as mummy wasn’t in, there was no need to pretend otherwise.
Everyone knew I was the goose that laid the golden eggs. If I left, half
the customers would follow me. In any case letting them wait made
them realise how lucky they were to be served at all, so I was actually
doing the business a favour.
There were three other hairdressers, Memory, Patricia and Yolanda
plus Charlie Boy, our barber, who always came in smelling of
Chibuku. The salon was my personal fiefdom and I was queen bee.
I would throw my handbag on the floor underneath the cashier’s
desk and boil myself a cup of tea.
“There is a new style I want you to do for me.” How often have I
heard these words, usually followed by a folded picture torn from
some glossy American magazine.
“Nxii, I can do that easily, it’s just the style for you!” I always indulged
them with a white lie.
There’s only one secret to being a successful hairdresser and I’ve
never withheld it from anyone. ‘Your client should leave the salon
feeling like a white woman.’ Not Coloured, not Indian, not Chinese.
I have told this to everyone who’s ever asked me and what they all
want to know is how d’you make someone feel like a white woman.
Sigh, yawn, scratch.
The answer is simple, ‘whiteness is a state of mind’.
Mrs Khumalo understands this and that’s why she would never fire
me. The other girls don’t understand it and that’s why Patricia was
fired. The stupid girl got pregnant less than six months into the job,
so, of course, Mrs K. had no choice. Hairdressers are there to sell an
image and that image is not pushing a football in your belly. Suddenly
we had a vacancy. Little did I know that this small twist of fate
would cost me my crown.

reviewed by: Tammy Elizabeth Southin

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