Review: On Black Sisters’ Street

Author: Chika Unigwe

Published: First by Jonathan Cape in 2009, then by Vintage U.K Random House in 2010.

In a world where young women are desperate for a better life and hungry for an escape, there are predators who see this as an opportunity to make handsome profits. The trading of women from Africa to Europe with the promise of more money and a better life is one of the themes of this book, along with poverty and power that feeds on the weak.

Four African young African women live under the same roof in the sordid district of Antwerp, where they unknowingly share so much in common but all keep their stories to themselves. Sisi is an ambitious graduate who grew up believing that education was the only way out of the life of poverty, but after graduating the struggle of finding employment proved otherwise. After having a child at a young age, with a man who abandons her and leaves her to bite through poverty, Efe decides to take up an offer where she’s promised to make a lot of money. Ama leaves behind a rapist step-father and a search of her real father and finds herself in the same land of promised riches. Joyce’s history is made up of broken pieces of war and loss.

It is the tragic death of one of them that brings them close and under the roof, they’ve shared for so long without sharing much about themselves, their stories come out. A common thread in their stories appears – Dela. All four of their lives crossed paths with the same man, Dela who sold them sweet stories for a better future only to trap them into lives of prostitution that they can never escape.

The reality of this story has existed for a long time and still takes place. Young girls who live in poverty who dream of riches and better lives are lured by men like Dela in the story. The Delas target these girls and make fortunes from selling them to pimps in Europe. These girls are promised a deal to repay certain amounts regularly and it’s made to look that simple, yet there is no getting out. Unigwe brings this to our attention in its raw form and doesn’t hold back on the picture she paints for us. This story is a voice for many, it amplifies an issue that is ignored and still has a network that is very much alive and running. Her storytelling ability is worthy of an applause; in the way that she gives life to these characters and assigns authentic stories to them. It’s an incredible and touching story. It brings sensitive issues to the surface without depressing the reader.

It’s definitely worth adding to the shelf.

Chika Unigwe

(Image Source: The Man Booker Prize)

Chika Unigwe was born in Enugu, Nigeria in 1974. She writes in both English and Dutch. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Leiden. Her awards include the 2003 BBC Short Story Award and a Flemish literary prize for her first short story, De Smaak van Sneeuw. In 2004 she was shortlisted for the Cane Prize for African Writing. On Black Sisters’ Street won the 2012 Nigeria Prize for Literature. Some of her other titles are Night Dancer, Black Messiah, and many others. She lived in Turnhout, Belgium with her four children and husband and now resides in the USA.

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