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On Black Sisters' Street Paperback – 2 Sep 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 58 customer reviews

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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: 12.2 x 1.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 22,834 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

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

“Boiling with a sly, generous humor … On Black Sisters Street marks the arrival of a latter-day Thackeray, an Afro-Belgian writer who probes with passion, grace and comic verve the underbelly of our globalized new world economy.”
New York Times Book Review


“Unigwe’s gripping tale chronicles the lives of four African women working as prostitutes in Antwerp’s red-light district.… As Unigwe tells her characters’ stories in interweaving narratives and time lines, the women embody depths of fear and displacement, as well as the will to survive and prosper.”
Booklist


“This spellbinding novel … combines a storyteller’s narrative flair with a reporter’s eye for grim, gritty details about the sex industry.… Unigwe crafts her characters’ voices with crystalline prose and compassion, in a revelatory work as tough, humane and unsentimental as its heroines.”
― Caryn James, More Magazine


“In her English-language debut, the Nigerian-born Unigwe convincingly exposes an unfamiliar world without sentimentality.”
Kirkus Reviews


“Unigwe has a talent for capturing the dashed dreams of young women who are stronger than they imagine.… (T)he women’s personal stories are wrenchingly memorable.”
Library Journal


“Powerful … The author’s raw voice, unflinching eye for detail, facility for creating a complex narrative, and affection for her characters make this a must read.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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 I.T. on 22 Dec. 2016
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The storyline was a bit confusing, I could only link it all up together when I got to the middle of the book.

The characters were not very authentic either, Dele was completely out of character - a Yoruba man living in Lagos conversing in pidgin. Neither did it seem realistic either for Joyce/Alek to be so versatile in pidgin considering her character wasn't even Nigerian!

A lot of lines were overly exaggerated (seems common with a lot of African writers these days)

Overall, I think the story could have been told much better.
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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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.
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