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4.2 out of 5 stars51
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 12 July 2009
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 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. The reader gets to know the women by and by and it is thanks to Ms Unigwe's first class story telling that the book can be categorized as 'unputdownable'. I sure couldn't do anything else in my free time but continue reading until I came to the end. Although one of the women dies, the lives of the others went on to become something useful to their different societies from their countries of origin.

The lesson learned here is 'never judge a book by its cover' We shouldn't judge our sisters in the sex trade until we have walked a mile or two in their shoes. Pick up this book today, read it during your summer break and you will discover that it is money well spent.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 13 November 2009
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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on 15 November 2013
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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on 3 March 2016
An involving and moving story of four women who come from Nigeria to Antwerp (not Brussels, as mistakenly mentioned on the back cover blurb of my edition) to work in the sex trade, with one of them not making it out alive. All are strong, well drawn characters with tragic backstories, although one in particular is given a little more depth than the others.
Unigwe has a habit of dropping spoilers into the middle of her own novel, telling you in the middle of the book what happens to certain characters years later, after the events of the main plot are over. This kills the tension a little, but then again this isn't really meant to be a standard murder thriller.
The perspective sticks closely to that of the four women, so we don't get much in the way of wider context, and it feels a little unbalanced in terms of the time spent exploring how their lives back in Africa forced them into accepting these jobs in Belgium, compared to what that new life in Europe is actually like and what it means to them. And the ending ties things up a little abruptly and I didn't feel like it ultimately had anything major to say about the issues it raises other than that it's sad and unfortunate and how much resilience and thick skin it takes to survive it.
Still, glad I read it.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 8 September 2012
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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on 30 May 2015
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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on 29 December 2011
A book such as this is not simply a work of fiction. As such, it is hard to judge it purely in those terms. The author clearly has the ability to write prose and choses a contemporary and heartbreaking topic but somehow fails to move the issue on from what most people who watch documentaries or read newspapers are already aware of.

I am well aware of the trafficking of women into wealthy countries (not just Europe) for the sex trade. This has gone on all over the world for probably as long as the world has existed. The women traded are usually from desperate situations either from poverty or war and are therefore vulnerable and easily exploited. They don't all get tricked into it, some go with their eyes open as to the 'work' that awaits them. However, few realise the slavery they have signed up to in repaying their pimps for the supposed 'opportunity' of a brave new life in a wealthy country. The majority are in the countries illegally and therefore have no protection and are totally at the mercy of those exploiting them. Many Eastern European suffer this fate within the UK, sometimes as total prisoners inside buildings. None of this is new. There have been many articles and documentaries covering these; complete with filmed interviews of the victims (often in silhouette to safeguard their identity) and their stories and backgrounds are heartbreaking. Those that control them are dangerous and think nothing of disposing of them at the drop of a hat, safe in the knowledge that nobody will expend much effort defending those that technically dont exist.

This is my point about this novel. It doesn't really show us much beyond what we should already know and in many ways shows us rather less. The depth of emotion and anger I have felt over press reports has been much greater. The characters in this book are given a past and, in some cases a horrific past but somehow the author doesn't develop this sufficiently or get us sufficiently involved with the characters to have the intended effect. For instance one of the girls sees her family murdered and is gang raped by rebels but soon after finds herself in a Sudanese refugee camp and falls in love with one of the peace keepers and ends up back in his tent where they develop a relationship...Eventually the relationship does go wrong but somehow this all happens rather fast and casually. Somehow the deep damage both physical and mental that she has suffered is not covered or (is assumed) and this makes the follow on relationship seem somewhat unlikely. Her feelings are not discussed, it's almost as if she's just had a bit of bad luck but she's over it soon enough.

The plot is very predictable.....maybe because it is not news.

If you are unaware of what goes on, then this is well written and certainly worth reading but it is not as deeply gut wrenching at it should be because somehow we dont get close to any of the characters for long enough. Time moves rather randomly back and forth and the developing closeness between the girls is somehow not demonstrated or credible. I think this is why the book doesn't quite hit the mark.

Not a bad book at all but not quite satisfactory for purpose.
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on 27 March 2016
Can't fault the content of the book, absolutely loved it and would highly recommend it to anyone. However, I was appalled to find out that when I got to the end of the book (the best part), it was in fact missing 22 pages. I was too late to return the book because I had ordered it in advance of reading and by the time it got round to it my return date was expired. As I am studying the book for my degree I had to waste £5 unnecessarily on a kindle edition to print out the final pages. PLEASE CHECK THE CORRECT NUMBER OF PAGES ARE IN THE BOOK BEFORE YOU SEND THEM AMAZON!!!!! APPALLED.
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on 18 September 2012
The author uses the device of a range of narrators whose stories all inter-weave. This could seem confusing but the threads are kept clear and distinct and the individual tragedies that unit all the protagonists are movingly told.
I also liked the way the author occassionally fast forwarded the story so you could see how things resolved themselves (or not..) for the main characters.
Overall - a very clever and gripping read.
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on 30 November 2010
i found this book very haunting and appreciated that i was given an insight to a subject i know little of. i did find it slow to begin with but once the story picked up i could not put it changed my mind about women in this position.a story that needed to be told.The only thing i would criticise is that the ending is so curt that i would have liked to know in detail what happened to the girls.
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