Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu

The cover is the first thing that attracted me to this tender story. I loved her silhouette and as a woman with a loudly proud fro, this make me smile. The pink afro-pick and then upon closer inspection, the things that actually made up the swirls and loops of her hair, I just had to read this book.

Set in modern Zimbabwe, written by a native son, this tale is told in a very African way. There are comical moments hiding the deepest emotions.

I settled in to take my time with the story, in a mere 189 pages, this young man managed to touch on a lot of issues that are very much in discussion today.

Vimbai, the young protagonist, is like a lot of millennials, trying to make her way in the big city. She is an expert hairdresser and as that is a primarily customer-service-driven profession, determined to not let anyone encroach on her budding business. She tangles with the fellow salon chairs, including the owner's daughter and the owner's persistent quest to be profitable.  It was in this that the story takes a turn that I did not expect.

Dumisani seems like the chiseled dream, imagined in my mind's eye like a very dark, very handsome, very charasmatic actor. He breezed into their lives and ultimately turned around what Vimbai knew of herself as a woman.

Woven, like a thousand different threads, it is not until a little over half-way through the book that we discover the real tale, the illusion that threatened to shatter all her dreams and the turmoil that living an inauthentic life spells.

There were times in my reading that I was mesmerized by the lyrical poetry and turn of phrases of the author employed. He wrote about whiteness as an illusion and the invasion of western styled products and images as anything to strip them of their "Africanness." It had moments of 1992-1994 political African interspersed with the universal quest to be, belong, and believe in someone.

Secrets are hinted at, customs are shared and adhered to, and the pages keep turning with that underlying gut feeling that something big was about to happen. Political intrigue, government coup, power, wealth, influence are all minor characters of a tale that is as important now as it was hinted at in the height of the identity movement.

Inheritance, misogany, and of course, traditional patriarchy threaten to overshadow Vimbai and her daughter. Taking twists and turns, we come to the questions of what can a woman have for herself, when can she speak up, and what about the men that betray her heart? To whom is she to be loyal and how many secrets to protect someone must she keep? Is the shame her's or does it belong to the one who defies custom to do something that was still not accepted in African cultures?

Many questions and a final pronouncement leave the reader with acknowledgement that the issues of sexual orientation and relationship continue to be discussed in parts of the world. That women on the other end of a man's hidden life are often left with the emotional damage of their secret, shamed by patriarchy and cultural demands. Had she made the life altering decision to marry, she would have been trapped in an intimately loveless life while he was trapped in a secret shame that almost cost him his life.

This novel draws in the reader with a deceptively simple story of a woman making her way in a modern African country, creating itself anew without British colonial influence. It is not until one is deep into his beautiful writing that the social commentary emerges and brought out the stickynotes and pens for this reviewer. I paused multiple times, while this was published a few years ago, the issues are even more relevant today. As society norms shift, in the United States, among AfricanAmericans and increasingly, African peoples, the issue of those left behind continues to resonate.

The Hairdresser of Harare is a love story, but not just a love story. It is a social commentary, but not just that. It is an African story, but not just that. It is a combination of all that makes us human and the emotional wrestling that is universal.

This debut work by a  young African writer has garnered him a place among the Afro Diaspora writers who include social commentary with a modern twist.  Visit him for his latest work.



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