You can read a dozen nonfiction books about Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe’s kleptocracy and fail to get a more vivid sense of what life is really like there than from this recent novel about a single mother by Tendai Huchu. In one short work of fiction, Huchu conjures up the sad reality of day-to-day existence in that beleaguered country. The 90 percent unemployment. Ubiquitous corruption. Hyperinflation. Ever-present shortages. Barely functional electricity service. The vicious eviction of white Africans from their farms and businesses. Rabid homophobia.
The people of resource-rich Zimbabwe are among the world’s most poverty-stricken, and average life expectancy in their country is thirty-seven, but what does that really mean for the way they live their lives, day after day? The Hairdresser of Harare opens up a window on that steadily unfolding tragedy.
The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu (2015) 200 pages ★★★★★
Here is Huchu summing up this reality: “I felt an atmosphere of friendliness, violence, innovation, poverty, joy, but the only thing that hung over everything else was despair; an air of hopelessness as if everyone was in a pit that they could not climb out of.”
Set in the capital city, Harare, and revolving around the hairdressers who eke out a living from a beauty salon, The Hairdresser is the first-person account of a talented beautician named Sisi Vimbai. As a teenager, Vimbai was impregnated by her Sugar Daddy, a wealthy businessman who quickly grew distant soon after she gave birth to a daughter. Now nearly twenty-six and a single mother, with a ten-year-old to support, Vimbai is on the verge of desperation when a new threat arises: a handsome young man of twenty-two named Dumi has displaced her as the salon’s most sought-after hairdresser. The novel spins out the tale of Vimbai and Dumi’s growing relationship.
Since writing The Hairdresser of Harare, which appeared in 2010, Huchu has published a second novel, The Maestro, the Magistrate, and the Mathematician. A native of Zimbabwe, he now lives in Scotland and is employed as a podiatrist.
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