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On Black Sisters' Street


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A tale of choices, displacement and courage, suffused with the richness of the oral story-telling tradition and set against the backdrop of the Antwerp prostitute underworld.

About the Author

Chika Unigwe was born in Nigeria and now lives in Belgium with her husband and four children. She is an award-winning short story writer and the author of two novels, written in Dutch. Her first novel, De Feniks, was the first work of fiction to be written by a Flemish author of African origin.


In Nigerian-born Unigwe's second novel, the main character's murder propels the narrative forward in order to answer the question of how she died. Her death also spurs the other three main characters to share their stories. All four women are prostitutes in Belgium, and all came from poverty in Africa, lured by the false promise of European riches. The murder of one causes the three others to share their tales, each more heartbreaking than the last. This is a novel of desperation, sexual exploitation, and, ultimately, sisterhood. There's little hope here, though the ending suggests that the surviving women endure and finally make a life on their own terms. Unigwe has a talent for capturing the dashed dreams of young women who are stronger than they imagine. While the revelations about the murder are unsurprising, and the details about the red light district not particularly vivid, the women's personal stories are wrenchingly memorable. VERDICT Recommended for readers who enjoy novels about the struggle to survive amid African turmoil, such as those by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.--Evelyn Beck, Piedmont Technical Coll., Greenwood, SC (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

In her U.S. debut, Nigerian immigrant Unigwe sets a melancholy tale in her adopted home of Belgium. When "Sisi" receives an offer from a questionable businessman to work in Belgium she accepts, agreeing to repay expenses as she works. She leaves the depressed, jobless Lagos only to find herself employed as a prostitute on Antwerp's Zwartezusterstraat (literally "Black Sisters Street") along with fellow Africans Ama, Joyce, and Efe. Despite her dire circumstance, Sisi falls in love with a native Belgian who encourages her to break free from her madam and the Lagos businessman. Freedom, however, remains elusive for Sisi, whose pitiful life is cut short with the swing of a hammer, prompting her Zwartezusterstraat sisters to share their own stories of fear, abuse, and violence, and allowing Unigwe to give powerful voice to women of the African Diaspora who are forced to use sex to survive. 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. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

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 *

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