- 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 (55 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 9,133 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
On Black Sisters' Street Paperback – 2 Sep 2010
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"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)
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.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
started the book thinking I could predict the end and knew what happened but loved the twist, the beginning was abit hard to get into felt like a book on short stories; but the... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Vivienne Ekpo
Loved this book. So captivating. You cry, laugh, are shocked. Great read.Published 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
Book was good, great attempt at telling the different stories of African women and their plight of trafficking, I found it really interesting and well written. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Ms. Rachel Tension
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... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Amazon Customer
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,... Read morePublished 9 months ago by S Litton