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.


Review of Your Writing Coach by Jurgen Wolff (Non-Fiction)


Title: Your Writing Coach: From Concept to Character, from Pitch to Publication

Author: Jurgen Wolff

Publisher: Nicholas Brealey Publishing

Date of Publication: 2012

Edition: 2nd

Number of pages: 279

ISBN: 978-1-85788-577-4


There are a lot of people who shelter their dreams of becoming writers or better writers under layers of fear and a million excuses. Wolff comes in this book armed with all the tools to break down those walls by getting into the nitty-gritty of a writing career. There are countless books on writing but what a lot of people need is this sort of dissection that Wolff uses in his step-by-step guide.

This well-ordered book goes from shredding fears into its different types, to finding your niche through knowledge and experience, and using these to come up with ideas, marketing yourself and finding the motivation to never lose sight of your goals. The advice given can apply to a large audience; the novice, the budding writer, the discouraged and intimidated and even the ones who are already seasoned can still pick up a few tips.

Your Writing Coach presents its strategies and methods in an organised and easy-to-read manner. The arrangement of challenges, followed by tips and guides, real example stories and exercises makes the read practical and intelligible. There’s nothing more frustrating than finding language that burdens you with heavy words and a need to sound too sophisticated or too intelligent while you’re leafing through what’s supposed to make your life easier. Here, Wolff just speaks to you as someone sitting with you in a coffee shop enjoying a cappuccino. However, that doesn’t rob his content of its ability to approach the dirt of writing; he confronts the harsh realities of rejection, the competition in the field, procrastination, not finding time and space and not finding support.

The only thing that he could’ve given more of—although a complete list would require a larger book—is the different niches in writing. There are so many that writers can match their abilities and interests with but in this book the list is quite short. However, even in that shortage of niches he dives into each and every one he lists without holding back, explores them thoroughly and gives a full and clear direction on how to succeed in them. Overall it’s a gift, a great tool for sharpening that writing talent and making a success out of it.

A graduate at Stanford University, Jurgen Wolff is an author and teacher. He has a wealth of experience in this particular focus, as well as nine other books that are dedicated to honing and toning the writing muscle. His knowledge and skill shine in this work and also make him a credible and well-qualified coach.

I would recommend Your Writing Coach to anyone sitting on their dream of writing – students and non-students, anyone of any age and those lost and trying to find their way around the map of writing.


Book Review: God Help The Child by Toni Morrison


“What you do to children matters. And they might never forget.” 

I have always wanted to read a Toni Morrison book, I’ve known about her for a while and I am sure I have shared a few quotes by her here and there but I never really got to reading one of her works. Finally, I walked into the bookstore with only the intention of getting any of her books. Well, actually I was looking for The Bluest Eye as it was recommended by a friend but it was out of stock so I picked up the only one they had, God Help the Child. I should’ve started reading her work sooner.

When light-skinned Sweetness gives birth to a blue-black skinned daughter she is shocked by the child’s colour and cannot accept it. The father’s child leaves her and she’s left to raise the child on her own in a society where different shades of skin colour are underlined. Sweetness does not show or give the child any affection. Her daughter testifies against a woman accused of a paedophilic crime, putting her in jail. Only then is Sweetness so proud of her that for the first time she gives her a bit of affection.

Years later, the daughter, Bride, is a successful business woman and absolutely stunning. Her skin gives her a unique element of beauty, giving her confidence even in her personal world where a part of her childhood haunts her. Her boyfriend Booker breaks up with her without much of an explanation. Both of them love each other but allow their childhood wounds to get in the way. Bride finds the woman she had testified against on the day of her release from prison, and offers her gifts to help her start over. It goes awfully sour. Bride ends up on a course to find Booker, whom she realises she didn’t know much about and wants to know why she broke up with him. All feelings are brought to the surface when they meet and they both discover deep truths about each other and how those revealed parts of them have shaped and led them to where they are.

I bought it in the morning, sacrificed a few hour of sleep and finished it by midnight. All read in a breath. It is a thin read but it is loaded with so much depth. There is a lot of hard truths concerning childhood pains and scars. The scars that constantly remind the adult bearers of those scars who they are, where they come from, and this novel shows that sometimes even in adulthood those scars can rule their owners.

Bride and Booker have a lot in common, in the way they hold on to things that happened to them years ago and without acknowledging it, they let those deep-seated issues form a crack between them. Morrison covers so much emotional breadth and depth. The characters are all believable and on point; you hate the husband who left, the mother who deprived her child of things that a child needed to feel and see, and you love and sympathise with the adult who still has a broken child in her.

If you’re into books that unwrap raw emotions, dig really deep and unfold the truth of human behaviour and actions then you will love this. This book might just turn you into a big Toni Morrison fan.


(Image: The Marc Steiner Show)

Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford in 1931 in Lorain, Ohio. She showed an interest in literature at an early age. She Studied humanities at Howard and Cornell Universities, then had an academic career at Texas Southern University, Howard University, Yale and later at Princeton University. Her debut novel The Bluest Eyes came out in 1970, followed by a success of other novels such as Sula, Beloved, Home and many more, including this most recent one, God Help the Child. This multi-award winner has written plays, children’s literature, academic papers, non-fiction and articles. She has worked as an editor and literary critic.

Book Review: A Cowrie of Hope by Binwell Sinyangwe


“When light streaks the sky, hope begins to burn.”

Publisher: Heinemann

Year: First published in 2000

The hardships of a mother to keep her children alive, to give them the best and create a better life for them, are hardly recognised or applauded. This is worse in poor societies where women labour and break their backs to ensure that their children are fed and are able to get an education. These are challenges that aren’t made any easier by patriarchal domination and the in-law system that can be harsh to them. Yet, for their children they manage to soldier on.

After Nasula’s husband dies his family takes all the money and the house that he had left behind for her and their only daughter, leaving her in dire poverty and forcing her to move back to her village. These are the nineties, a time of economic hardships and a disease that is going around consuming so many people. Nasula dreams of a better future for her daughter Sula, with education and independent of marriage. Sula is a brilliant pupil and she needs to continue with her schooling but money is a problem. Nasula needs to find a way to raise the large amount needed to pay for her fees. Her attempt to ask her in-laws only leaves her disappointed. A good friend advices her to go to Lusaka to go sell her in-demand bag of beans. After making the journey and ready to sell, a predator snatches her last hope of getting money to send her Sula to school. She might be forced to fight her way to find the thief or just give up and go home to tell her daughter that she has failed.


The wheels of the story move along swiftly and each chapter passes on the baton to the next without fail. It might be because I have spent years around Zambians but this book is written in true Zambian style. I can hear the accents, the voices, I can see the gestures and the small details that can be attributed to that particular people of the country. I can envision the setting in the book and together with Sinyangwe’s good hand, it becomes a pleasant read.

The way he uses characters and settings of the story to capture the realness of the period in which the story takes place is satisfying and the subjects that he brings to our attention are done so in an enlightening and easy to understand way. The way he leads us through the challenges that Nasula faces, the dangers in the city, the corruption, the hunger, the disease and the way a lot of matters are handled by the different characters in the book are close to the truth. It may be fiction but you can almost taste the realness of it all; the culture and the lives that these people lead. You are in Zambia.

It’s a well written story, it’s enjoyable and it’s a quick read. It doesn’t linger on the need for sympathy but rather refreshes you with the way the main character shows courage all the way. The strength of a mother. I think a lot of women, mothers even more, will enjoy this story. People who can relate to it on different levels and appreciate the way it speaks to them.

Binwell Sinyangwe is a Zambian novelist and poet who was born in 1956. He studied Industrial Economics at the Academy of Economic Sciences in Bucarest, Romania. A Cowrie of Hope is preceded by another novel, Quills of Desire. He has had a number of poems and articles published in various Zambian magazines and newspapers.

Book Review: Arrows of Rain by Okey Ndibe


“Rain has two faces…It can give life, but its arrows can also cause death.”

Publisher: First by Heinemann Educational Publishers

Year: 2000

A prostitute has drowned after being raped on the beach.  The last man who spoke to her is Bukuru who everyone calls a madman. The police take him in as the suspect and two weeks later he’s put on trial and investigators conclude that he’s responsible for other rapes and murders of prostitutes that have been going on at the same beach. After the first day of court the judge decides that Bukuru should be assessed by a second psychiatrist. This appointed doctor arranges a meeting with Femi, a reporter who wrote a piece on the case and whom Bukuru asks for to tell his story.

Bukuru tells the whole story from when he was born to when he took his post at the Monitor paper. He later meets a prostitute whom he becomes close to. He decides to write her story and he discovers that a well-known man, Isa has returned to her life. Bukuru abandons Iyese and fears taking the risk of having Isa come after him. He also doesn’t want her reputation as a prostitute linked to him. The same Isa later rapes and murders her, after she gives birth to a boy and she, believing that the baby is Bukuru’s, doesn’t let Isa into the its life. The child who survives with a slash on the leg is taken to an orphanage. When Isa is appointed the leader during a coup, Bukuru believes that he will come after him and so he leaves everything and lives on the beach as a madman until the day of his arrest. After Femi reads the story he travels back to his own personal story and how he found out that he was adopted. Trying to sort out the puzzle, with the knowledge that he was in the same orphanage that Bukuru had mentioned, and that he bears a scar on his leg, could it be that the madman is his biological father?

The beginning of the story starts with a bang, a case to follow, questions are raised and there’s a mystery to follow, a truth that seeks to be found. This just moves the story forward at a good pace and is worth following. The plot! Ndibe did well, I have to say. All the events are so well connected, cohesive, interesting and entertaining. There’s nothing in his sketching of reality that is incomprehensible, all the information he throws at us is at good doses and he never digresses. There are books that have parts that can be skipped and nothing’s lost but in this one, he made sure that every line has something to offer and isn’t to be lost. Even when the active voice changes, we are kept on track with the story, all the events breeze through the story so easily and smoothly and interact so impressively with the rest of the story.

The main character is a rollercoaster, one minute he’s worth all the sympathy in the world and the next, he’s just an annoying coward who one can feel really needs to get a steel pair. However, it’s such a good way of making him and everyone around him believable and gives space to love and hate him. All the characters are well-developed, their attitudes, appearances, defects and relationships are spot-on.

Ndibe’s way of placing topics such as prostitution, power and fear is worth a cheer. There’s a way he shows the ways in which prostitutes start, live, struggle, are treated and it’s not in a manner that begs for pity but more in a realistic and honest way. The power hungry and the ones who are victims of that power also play a role, but what I like is that he didn’t throw all of that in our faces in a way that would’ve made his story what people label another “typical African story.”

I just cannot fault this book in any way, and the end is also unpredictable. Once I reached the climax, I thought I could predict how it would all turn out but the author knew how and when to stop. I would recommend this book for people who prefer a mobile story, events going forward with revelations along the way. African literature lovers will enjoy this and anyone just looking for an entertaining story.


(Image: OkeyNdibe)

Okey Ndibe was born in 1960 in Yola, Nigeria. Before moving to the US he worked in Nigeria as a journalist and magazine editor. He earned his MFA and PhD degrees from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. In 1988, in the US, he was the founding editor of the award-winning magazine, African Commentary which was published by the great Chinua Achebe. He also worked as a professor at several colleges, he has contributed many poems and essays to a various publications. Arrows of Rain is his first novel, and after it he published the novels, Never Look an American in the Eye, and Foreign Gods, Inc.

Pretty in Pink with Jackie and P!nk


Pages and melodies – bliss!

“Falling in love is like getting hit by a truck and yet not being mortally wounded. just sick to your stomach, high one minute, low the next. Starving hungry but unable to eat. hot, cold, forever horny, full of hope and enthusiasm, with momentary depressions that wipe you out.” – Jackie Collins

“The truth about love is it’s nasty and salty
It’s the regret in the morning, it’s the smelling of armpits
It’s wings, and songs
And trees, and birds
It’s all the poetry that you ever heard.”

– Pink, The Truth About Love