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On Black Sisters' Street Paperback – 2 Sep 2010


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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (2 Sept. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099523949
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099523949
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 34,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"An important and accomplished novel that leaves a strong aftertaste. Unigwe gives voice to those who are voiceless, fleshes out the stories of those who offer themselves as meat for sale, and bestows dignity on those who are stripped off it." (Independent)

"This powerful book will leave you haunted" (Ali Smith)

"On Black Sisters' Street is ultimately a story of female strength and resilience... the book draws on a rich oral story telling tradition to illuminate the West from an under-represented perspective" (Aesthetica)

"This harrowing subject matter is handled deftly by Unigwe, with lyrical insight and splashes of dark humour, in a book that is both thought-provoking and eye-opening" (Doug Johnstone The List)

"Lively and engaging...Unigwe has a good ear for idiosyncratic language...On Black Sisters' Street is a pleasure to read: fast-paced, lucidly structured and colourful" (Zoe Norridge TLS)

Review

Not many novelists would wander around the seedy red-light district of Antwerp in a mini-skirt and thigh-high boots to carry out research. But this is what Nigerian writer Chika Unigwe did for her novel about the lives of African sex workers in the Belgian city. She also spent time persuading these women to share their stories.

Her diligence has paid off. On Black Sisters' Street is a probing and unsettling exploration of the many factors that lead African women into prostitution in Europe, and it pulls no punches about the sordid nature of the job. Four naive young women, Sisi, Joyce, Ama and Efe, fall under the money-making spell of pimp-daddy "Senghor Dele" in Lagos.

Rich, vulgar, ruthless, he specialises in exporting girls to work in Belgium for a modest fee of 30,000 euros. This they must pay back in monthly instalments over many years of turning tricks ten hours a day. They don't all know that this is what lies in store but, fake passports withheld, the consequences for those who try to escape are dire.

Sisi, around whom most of the novel's suspense revolves, is an ambitious graduate unable to find suitable work. Efe is a teenage mother struggling to raise her son with no support from his father. Ama has escaped an abusive childhood only to find her dream of escaping Nigeria crushed by a dead-end job. Joyce, without family, home or money, is abandoned by her boyfriend. The women's dreams come in different sizes, from financial support for struggling relatives back home to the allure of big houses, fancy cars, gold jewellery and expensive plait extensions.

Unigwe's vigorous prose is at its best when describing the utter humiliation Sisi feels when forced to dress like a hooker in "a gold-coloured nylon skirt" that rode up her legs when she walked and "showed her butt cheeks when she bent". So too with the degradation of her first encounter with a client in a toilet: "She baptised herself into it with tears, hot and livid, down her cheeks, salty in her mouth, feeling intense pain wherever he touched, like he was searing her with a razor blade that had just come off a fire".

Men in this novel are generally drunks, murderers, rapists, weak, cold-hearted, pathetic - although Unigwe avoids the fallacy of women as passive victims. Hers make choices, for which there are consequences. But their choices are restricted by circumstance and the Lagos they leave behind is a harsh place to survive, where "on any given day one was likely to find a corpse abandoned by the roadside".

She shows what the women become, too. Sisi, who felt she was living the dream on her first day in Belgium because she was eating jam, can "no longer bear to look at herself", while Efe's plan is to run her own brothel one day when she has paid of her debt. What Unigwe does brilliantly is to delve into the psychology of each woman, eliciting different levels of empathy.

This is an important and accomplished novel that leaves a strong aftertaste. Unigwe gives voice to those who are voiceless, fleshes out the stories of those who offer themselves as meat for sale, and bestows dignity on those who are stripped off it. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 12 July 2009
Format: Paperback
Chika Unigwe who lives and writes from Turnhout in Belgium. Ms Unigwe is a very talented writer and this is her second novel. Her first one, De Feniks was published in Dutch/Flemish but is also available as 'The Phoenix' in English. Unfortunately, you have to walk through Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos to obtain a copy or simply ask your Nigerian friends or relatives to get it for you. Her second book though is available via Amazon.co.uk. I ordered and got mine and have not regretted buying it. Ms Unigwe writes about the lives some of our sisters live in Europe. Exactly. Prostituting or better still, being sex workers. She breathes life into their existence; as most of them are not registered as citizens at all. 'Persona non grata', that is their status. So that when they die of some act of violence, they end up being buried like paupers in a country which never embraced them.

Sisi, Efe, Ama and Joyce alongside with their Madam who doesn't walk but barrels through rooms and spaces are the inhabitants of the flat on Zwartezusterstraat, which is the Black Sisters' Street in Dutch. Madam is a modern day 'Slaventreiber', a female pimp who has lost the spirit of compassion towards other human beings, especially black women. She is an excellent business woman though. Excellent in the marketing and selling of human bodies, preferably black female bodies. Ms Unigwe excellently tells of the lives of these women before Belgium and we eventually find out that they all, alongside with many other women have a common 'pimp' in Lagos Nigeria. When we see men or women of extreme wealth in Lagos and we do not see them sweat for it or go to a 9-5 job daily, we should beware.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Bobby Smith TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 13 Nov. 2009
Format: Paperback
Excellent book that pulls no punches. Most definitely a thought provoking read that gives a voice to African prostitutes - unlucky enough to be 'working' in the seedy bars and streets of Europe. The female characters stir empathy in the reader and make one feel sympathy at the plight of these victims of the sex-trade. One can only hope that the men who use them read this book and are made aware of the issues regarding the traffiking of people into Europe; to be used as sex-objects for the pleasure of men. I suspect, though, that they are the last people who would pick up this original and disturbing book. If you like this I also recommend another book about the Nigerian experience in Europe (England), although from a more positive angle: One Love Two Colours: The Unlikely Marriage of a Punk Rocker and His African Queen by Margaret Oshindele (my wife). This is the true story of how a Yoruba woman can marry an Englishman (me!)and make a success of a marriage.
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By ADAM on 15 Nov. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
This is the story of 4 black African girls living together in Antwerp (Belgium). Each of them owe an enormous amount of money to Dele, a Nigerian in Lagos, who has facilitated their arrival in Europe. To pay him off they must sell their bodies to the sex-starved men of Antwerp.

When I began reading the book I was a little confused, but after re-reading the first few pages a couple of times, I was rapidly sucked into this charming novel. Gradually, we learn about the lives and ambitions of the 4 women, and how and why they have ended up as prostitutes in a Belgian city. It is not only a compelling tale that makes one want to move from one page to the next as soon as possible, but also a revealing series of insights about life in 'black' Africa. Although there are several sad strands running through the book, I was not left feeling depressed, but oddly uplifted.

Chika Uniwe, the Nigerian author of this novel is, like her compatriot Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a good story-teller. She is able to conjure up vivid images in the reader's mind despite being extremely economical with her language. She creates a brilliant picture in few words. I look forward to reading more books by Ms Unigwe.

Review by author of "SCRABBLE WITH SLIVOVITZ" a book about Yugoslavia before its civil wars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By sally tarbox TOP 500 REVIEWER on 8 Sept. 2012
Format: Paperback
Brilliantly crafted novel; four African women and their madam live together and work in Antwerp's Red Light district. When one of them is killed early on, the others begin to bond, sharing their very different life experiences that caused them to end up here. The author deftly interweaves the present day with their histories- including that of the dead woman.
Fascinating and moving read.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Really good book set in Belgium. it's a an easy read about 4 african immigrants who come to Europe with big dreams and hopes and are slapped very hard with a cruel reality that they embrace stoically. The story really warms up just before it ends suddenly. The book feels dominated by one character, Sisi, yet she's not really fully developed as a character as she's sharing some of that space with the other girls. You are left with questions about the other characters and i think the author would have some purchase developing the other characters and sharing their story. it's a rather painful and bittersweet conclusion of circumstances but that's the beauty of the book.
I thought about it for days after reading which is always the mark of a good book.
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