Award-winning novel exposes Harare's underbelly
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Review of The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu - Mary Helen Specht
New York Times, 11 August 2015
Sunday Book Review
Mary Helen Specht
Warning of the dangers of what she calls “the single story” about any given place or people, the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says that it “creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.” Too often in the United States, we have created a single narrative about foreign countries, particularly African countries: They’re impoverished and war-torn and beset by disease or, more benignly, simply teeming with exotic animals.
‘The Hairdresser of Harare,’ by Tendai Huchu - The New York Times
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Review of The Hairdresser of Harare by Scots Whay Hae
Scots Whay Hae!
Sunday, 14 April 2013A Cut Above The Rest: A Review Of Tendai Huchu's The Hairdresser of Harare...
New Review: Hairdresser of Harare
The South African
14th February, 2013
Book review: ‘The Hairdresser of Harare’ by Tendai Huchu
by Elizabeth Glanville
As a novel that takes you right into the heart of the hopes and despair of the lives of two Zimbabwean friends, as well as the country as a whole, The Hairdresser of Harare is an enjoyable read that highlights the wider struggle of a nation within the microcosm of a local salon.
New: Hairdresser of Harare Review by Jane Bryce
"...Vimbai is a hairdresser, the best in Mrs Khumalo's salon, and she knows she is the queen on whom they all depend. Her situation is reversed when the good-looking, smooth-talking Dumisani joins them."
Review: Hairdresser of Harare by Jane Bryce
The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu
A personal comment by Jane Bryce
Professor of African Literature and Cinema, University of Barbados, Cave Hill.
I enjoyed this novel at a number of levels: in the context of Zimbabwean literature, there hasn't been that much humour (apart perhaps from the short stories in Laughing Now) since Dambudzo and it's encouraging to encounter it here. I also felt it was an interesting fit with Brian Chikwava's Harare North (set in London) in the revealing of the more savage sides of Zim politics and social inequalities through the eyes of an unreliable narrator.
And that's the other level – the perfectly judged ambiguity of tone rendered as an effect of point of view Vimbai starts out comically vain but keenly observant, and a lot of the early humour arises from her observations on the salon, its clients, its owner, the other hairdressers, cumulatively amounting to a microcosm of late-Mugabe Zimbabwean society, with its hypocrisies, hierarchies and narcissism. The use of suspense is good too, with Vimbai's gradually unfolding backstory explaining why she lives alone in a large suburban house, why she's fallen out with her family, why she's a single mother, etc. There are plenty of hints even at this stage as to her shallowness and selfishness, but she remains a likeable charcter with plausible motives.
After Dumi moves in with her, the plot thickens and characterisation becomes more complex as Vimbai's relationship with him becomes more ambiguous. Because the reader knows well in advance of Vimbai that Dumi is gay, the dominant tone shifts from comic to ironic. Vimbai's entrancement with Dumi's much richer family and their reception of her spells out the way cronyism and corruption have permeated the society. She appears innocent, but, dazzled by luxury, is she complicit in their buying of her as cover for their son's gayness? In the material conditions of a city where money has no value – and everyone has to hustle to survive – even if she's aware she's being bribed, can she be blamed?
By the time she finds out Dumi is gay, her reaction is clearly rendered as an effect of the social brainwashing which is more clearly dramatised in Harare North. In the latter the persona is one of Mugabe's Green Bombers, and the novel is unsettling partly because he never backs down from the ideology of violence-as-control espoused by the Bombers. At the same time, he is mentally unstable and can't be relied on as a narrator. Vimbai is similarly unreliable in the sense that, while she may suffer at the hands of the elite and is sexually abused by her daughter's father, she fully subscribes to the leadership's designation of gays as 'worse than pigs and dogs'. Her reaction is an effect of the violence and corruption of Zimbabwe's ruined economy, the way poor people take refuge in pentecostal churches, which similarly preach homophobia, and the need for scapegoats. However, the writer's balancing of comic and serious maintains ambiguity so effectively that even Vimbai's betryal of Dumi doesn't destroy our sympathy for her. Which is quite a feat!
Review link from Round Table
For the article by Ranka Primorac and Stephen Chan on The Hairdresser of Harare, 'Postscript: Making do in a Hybrid House' see http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00358533.2010.530415
Free access to this article has been kindly granted us by the publishers Routledge, a member of the Taylor and Francis Group. The article was first published in The Round Table, Vol. 99, No 411, December 2010. This was a special issue on Zimbabwe entitled 'The Space of
Many Voices - Zimbabwe since the Unity Government' edited by Ranka Primorac and Stephen Chan.