Now living in Edinburgh, former Harare resident Tendai Huchu presents a picture of Zimbabwe which differs significantly from the reports that make it on to the TV news.

With politics intruding only incidentally, his debut novel focuses on the travails of a single mother trying to make a living in a country with a ruined economy and a 95% unemployment rate.

Vimbai has a child by a smooth-talking businessman who dumped her when she became pregnant. She lives in surprisingly comfortable surroundings for a hairdresser, having inherited the house her brother thought he was entitled to, which has led to a split in the family. But she's assured of one thing, at least: her position as the top hairdresser in Mrs Khumalo's salon is unassailable. That is, until Dumi arrives.

The fact that he's a male hairdresser is enough of a shock. That he appears to be eclipsing Vimbai's popularity among the clientele is a serious blow to her sense of security. Even so, although she naturally resents him, that doesn't stop her from showing him kindness when he needs it. For he is also ostracised from his family, and in Vimbai sees a chance of being accepted by them again. Of course, practically every reader will be one step ahead of Vimbai, having worked out what the deal is with Dumi very early on. But that lack of suspense is more than made up for by Huchu's rich, believable and effortlessly absorbing depiction of his central character, a naive but pragmatic woman who is put to the test and finds out just what she's made of.

The Mugabe administration isn't entirely absent from the story. In fact, a minister in his government plays a crucial role in the developing plot.

But the social and political commentary is mainly relegated to the background, in references to people carrying around wads of cash the size of bricks, or the duty of hairdressers to make their clients "feel like white women". Written with a clear, economical style and deceptive simplicity, this is a novel one can glide through in a matter of hours and end up wanting more.

Tendai Huchu is at the Aye Write! festival on Sunday, April 14, at 4.30pm. Tickets: 0141 353 8000 or

Tendai Huchu

Freight, £8.99

The Hairdresser of Harare