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On Black Sisters' Street Paperback – 2 Sep 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 55 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 (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 9,133 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

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

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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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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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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