An uncompromising glimpse into contemporary Zimbabwe through the eyes of a young hairdresser.
This sharp, entertaining, and thoughtful debut is rife with sociopolitical commentary but never loses its humanity. Vimbai, a proud single mother in her mid-20s and the novel’s narrator, is the best hairdresser at Khumalo Hair and Beauty Treatment Salon until a charming and mysterious 22-year-old named Dumisami shows up to fill a vacancy. Though Mrs K, the salon’s owner, is initially skeptical about hiring the young man (“A male hairdresser, who’d ever heard of such a thing?”), Dumi quickly becomes the new favorite of both the boss and the clientele, much to Vimbai’s dismay: “To be dispensable is a woman’s worst nightmare and I was beginning to live it.” Despite this animosity, when Vimbai learns that Dumi is broke and looking for a place to live, she offers to let him rent the extra room in her home. Their relationship takes an unconventional route, and readers might find themselves a few frustrating steps ahead of Vimbai’s belated realizations, especially near the end. Through deceptively simple observations and plain prose, Huchu exposes readers to issues of classism, racism, and homophobia without ever coming across as preachy or heavy-handed. Old and new clash—think Mahfouz’s Midaq Alley—but the novel remains steadfast in its mission to show not tell and keeps its complex cast of characters at its core. The political landscape and climate of the Mugabe regime is ever present without overpowering the narrative and should inspire curious readers to do a little research of their own.
Though at times predictable, this touching debut should not be overlooked.