Zimbabwe: The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu


HarareAbout the Book

Vimbai is the best hairdresser in Mrs. Khumalo’s salon, and she is secure in her status until the handsome, smooth-talking Dumisani shows up one day for work. Despite her resistance, the two become friends, and eventually, Vimbai becomes Dumisani’s landlady. He is as charming as he is deft with the scissors, and Vimbai finds that he means more and more to her. Yet, by novel’s end, the pair’s deepening friendship—used or embraced by Dumisani and Vimbai with different futures in mind—collapses in unexpected brutality.

The novel is an acute portrayal of a rapidly changing Zimbabwe. In addition to Vimbai and Dumisani’s personal development, the book shows us how social concerns shape the lives of everyday people.


I love reading African Literature. There is something about reading books with characters that you identify with. These books depict a culture that I know and live. There may be differences but it is still familiar. Reading African literature makes me feel like I am back home. Yeah, I never really left but I do read a lot of books from other parts of the world so it takes time before I am back to African Lit.

“I can only say that friendship should rise above man-made laws, which tend to be capricious by their very nature.”
Tendai Huchu, The Hairdresser of Harare

The Hairdressers of Harare is set at the capital of Zimbabwe. Vimbai is the lead hairdresser at a popular salon. You know those hairdressers who everyone wants. The ones who works magic and always seems to be fully booked. That was Vimbai until Dumi showed up. Suddenly, Vimbai’s position was threatened. She stopped being the ‘it’ hairdresser. However, she soon realizes that this was the least of her worries.

The book is set in Zimbabwe and this plays a very key role in the story. I admit that I don’t know much about the country.Cultural issues such as language and property inheritance also come up. I thought I knew about some of the issues affecting the country like inflation. However, devaluation of currency still shocked me. One thousand dollars this month may be valued at half that amount by the next month.  Homosexuality is also a key theme in the book. If you don’t know, homosexuality is a sensitive issue in the country. I first read about this was in The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah which I reviewed here.

I really liked Vimbai. She is a single mother who has been ostracized by her family. You will have to read the book to understand the feud. She is strong, a bit arrogant but with a soft heart. I didn’t agree with some of her decisions at first. However, I understood the motivations behind her actions. On the other hand, there was something about Dumi that really drew me to him. He was confident almost cocky. He was a nice guy just stuck in what seemed like unfortunate circumstances. I liked Dumi.

This book is about love (all kinds) and hate. There is a lot of prejudice illustrated by the characters. What is even more heartbreaking is the fact that it is based on reality. The issues of racial relations and homosexuality make this quite a tough read. There wasn’t really much of a twist/reveal but I still enjoyed reading it even with the knowledge that things would go wrong. I feel like I learned more about Zimbabwe, the culture and the people. The book is realistic, emotional but quite memorable.

It is only fair though that I warn you that some of the themes may be offensive to some readers. I remember when I wrote a review for The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin, some people expressed anger towards the polygamist culture depicted in the book.  However, I think that there is nothing wrong with the author including such aspects of culture. I don’t agree with polygamy and a number of other cultural practices around Africa but as someone once said, just because we don’t like the facts, doesn’t mean that we can change them (I heard this quote on Survivor). Therefore, just because I don’t like some of the cultural practices, it doesn’t mean that they should be ignored and shunned by authors because that will be unrealistic. Right? Anyway, this is a book that I definitely recommend to everyone interested in African Lit and especially in books set in Zimbabwe.

 About the author



Tendai Huchu’s first novel, The Hairdresser of Harare, was released in 2010 to critical acclaim, and has been translated into German, French, Italian and Spanish. His short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The Manchester Review, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Gutter, Interzone, AfroSF, Wasafiri, Warscapes, The Africa Report, Kwani? and numerous other publications. In 2013 he received a Hawthornden Fellowship and a Sacatar Fellowship. He was shortlisted for the 2014 Caine Prize. His new novel is The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician.

New Feature Announcement

Last year, I wrote an article on From Africa, with love: African Literature (You can read it here). To date, this still remains the most popular post that I have ever published on this blog. The response was amazing and I was inspired to share my love of African Lit. Unfortunately, I have been swamped by ARCs for quite a while and so I haven’t been reading this genre as much as I would have wanted to.

Recently, I had a conversation with my sister, Darkowaa, from Ghana. Darkowaa runs this wonderful blog, https://africanbookaddict.com. Talking about books and authors from Africa rekindled my love for the genre. So I have decided to start a new feature. So for two Sundays every month, I will be sharing reviews of different books from Africa.

“It’s difficult to stop loving someone, even when they have done something that you once thought unforgivable. There isn’t an on off switch for love.”
Tendai Huchu, The Hairdresser of Harare