Sunday, 29 April 2012

The haidresser of Harare - Tendai Huebu

This is the story of Vimbai - the best hairdresser at her salon - and her unlikely friendship with Dumisani, a young and charming man, who has more than a secret to keep.
At the beginning of the story, told in first person by Vimbai, she is the queen bee of her salon. Its business depends on her and she knows it. She's an independent, young woman who is rearing a daughter on her own, while her family has turned her back on her and the father of her child doesn't have any intentions to take on his responsibilities. Then one day her life is turned upside down by the arrival at the salon of Dumisani. He claims to be a hairdresser and ask for a job, but it would have been just as surprising if he had said he was from Mars. A male hairdresser is not something these women have ever heard of. But he proves himself in practice, revealing a rare talent and a irresistible charisma with the customers. In fact, he is so gifted that he steals Vimbai's spotlight.
She initially hates him for that, but he is a very hard person to hate and quickly he wins her over, too.

It's not hard for the reader to guess what Dumisani's secret is, but our narrator Vimbai is completely oblivious. We follow her as she goes through life in Harare, dreaming of opening her own salon, praying at her Pentecostal church, and trying to make sense of this new strange and confusing friendship with Dumisani. It's easy to get sucked into her story, but as it progresses you can't help but brace yourself for the inevitable crash that the truth will cause.

I enjoyed this little book. I loved learning about life in Zimbabwe because before reading this I knew next to nothing about it. Now I feel like a caught a vivid glimpse of what it is like living there. It seems similar to Europe during and after the wars. It's chaotic. Its rulers struggle to keep order, shops are empty and food must be bought at the black market, the inflation is over the roof so money is exchanged by weight, battle squads beat up anyone who voices a dissent. Not an easy place to be in, definitely. So I have to admire Vimbai for surviving quite well, being her own woman, not letting anyone dictate her life or her decisions.
But I did find her voice to be over-dramatic sometimes.
I liked Dumisani a lot for the most part. But he is flawed too, and I cannot sympathize with how he used and ultimately misled Vimbai. I know why he did it, but I lost a bit of admiration for him. Of course, if I really knew what it means to have a secret like his in Harare, then maybe I'd be more understanding. I don't despise Dumisani, though, for the same reasons I don't despise Vimbai for acting like she did in the end.
It makes the story more realistic, if I can say so, and more human. This is not a fairy tale, or at least not a Disney one. But it's a story that is easy to get into, and has the bonus of being different from what I normally read, set in a real world so far from my own in many ways. So I appreciated it all the more for it.