Last week I read the book, The Hair Dresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu. I could not put this book down and must have read it non-stop for about 3 days. The story is narrated by Vimbai, the best hairdresser in Mrs. Khumalo’s salon in Harare. Her glory shines bright until her competition Dumisani, a 22-year-old handsome man arrives and challenges her status and title. Vimbai narrates the twist that their relationship takes after that.
In a bid to try and review the book I will use Njeri’s 7 cowrie shell rating system
. (The cowrie shell system is just like a 5-star rating system ..but better. The emoji 🐚 represents one cowrie shell (star).
Plot- Maybe the plot of this story deserves half a cowrie shell. (🐚) Tendai builds an engaging story from the get-go which makes you hooked. His sense of humor is seasoned and his writing is easy to understand. Yet I feel he rushes through the plot. He mentions in passing a few key narratives that I feel would make the story more engaging if he advanced them more.
Characters -Dumisani and Vimbai, the main characters in the book are compelling to figure out. Vimbai is comical, I can almost picture her and equate her to my local hairdressers here in Nairobi. Keen to gossip, keen to please customers, keen to make customers feel like white women. Dumisani, on the other hand, is portrayed as brave yet cowardly which is an important aspect to think through as you read the book. Still, the role played by both the major and minor characters is highly predictable and not really noteworthy.
- 🐚 World-Building - Writers, African writers rarely write about homosexuality. (which anyway will give us our 4th cowrie shell). Tendai Huchu does a good job of giving us a lens on what it means to be African and to be gay. Additionally, he also takes us to an Africa that is all too familiar with corrupt leadership, high illiteracy levels, inflation, and an Africa trying to deal with a colonial legacy. On this specific aspect, Tendai executes perfectly on world-building.
Relationships - The bane of Tendai’s book is to bring us into the world of Dumi, a young African who is gay. However, I wish he explored this topic further and dwelt into the dynamics of the relationships Dumi had with several characters like Mr. M__. I wish we saw the complexity and challenging nature of the relationships more advanced. Tendai dwells on the heterosexual relationships for the better part of the book only giving us hints about Dumi being gay and revealing it at the end. Yet we can give this half a cowrie shell(🐚)
- 🐚 Afro-futurism -Afro-futurism here is about whether the book or story portrays Africa in a positive light. I think that really would depend on different readers. I think it is impressive that Tendai Huchu tries to show us that Africans too are interested in the philosophical world of Plato, Aristotle etc through Vimbai’s brother. It is also interesting how Dumi unlike Vimbai ‘makes women feel great as women’ and not ‘like white women’. Another interesting aspect is how Vimbai’s late brother leaves a house to Vimbai challenging cultural norms that will all too well know of in Africa. Yet I feel that all these aspects were quickly mentioned in passing and not dealt with enough for an Afro-futuristic theme to emerge.
Challenging Norms - Just like Afro-futurism, aspects of challenging societal norms do come out but in passing. Vimbai’s brother’s book club emerges as an avenue to critically examine ideas. Dumi defies social norms by being an excellent hairdresser and Vimbai though lonely struggles to live as an independent woman which we see as she deals with men cat-calling her.
- 🐚 Aspirational- This book gets a cowrie shell for being aspirational. And this is personal for me in the book club that Vimbai attends on uncovering what it means to be gay. Here is a quote that was most aspirational for me
“I can only say that friendship should rise above man-made laws, which tend to be capricious by their very nature.”
Have a great week ahead!