Zimbabwe through the eyes of a single mother


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 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, the ubiquitous corruption, the hyperinflation, the ever-present shortages, the barely functional electricity service, the vicious eviction of white Africans from their farms and businesses, the 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 @@@@@ (5 out of 5)

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, 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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