Unigwe, Chika On Black Sisters' Street

ISBN 13: 9780099523949

On Black Sisters' Street

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9780099523949: On Black Sisters' Street

Four very different women have made their way from Africa to Brussels. They have come to claim for themselves the riches they believe Europe promises but when Sisi, the most enigmatic of the women, is murdered, their already fragile world is shattered.

Drawn together by tragedy, the remaining three women - Joyce, a great beauty whose life has been destroyed by war; Ama, whose dark moods manifest a past injustice; Efe, whose efforts to earn her keep are motivated by a particular zeal - slowly begin to share their stories. They are stories of terror, of displacement, of love, and of a sinister man called Dele.

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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.

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)

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Book Description Vintage Publishing, United Kingdom, 2013. Paperback. Book Condition: New. 194 x 128 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. Four very different women have made their way from Africa to Brussels. They have come to claim for themselves the riches they believe Europe promises but when Sisi, the most enigmatic of the women, is murdered, their already fragile world is shattered. Drawn together by tragedy, the remaining three women - Joyce, a great beauty whose life has been destroyed by war; Ama, whose dark moods manifest a past injustice; Efe, whose efforts to earn her keep are motivated by a particular zeal - slowly begin to share their stories. They are stories of terror, of displacement, of love, and of a sinister man called Dele. Bookseller Inventory # AAZ9780099523949

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Book Description Vintage Publishing, United Kingdom, 2013. Paperback. Book Condition: New. 194 x 128 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. Four very different women have made their way from Africa to Brussels. They have come to claim for themselves the riches they believe Europe promises but when Sisi, the most enigmatic of the women, is murdered, their already fragile world is shattered. Drawn together by tragedy, the remaining three women - Joyce, a great beauty whose life has been destroyed by war; Ama, whose dark moods manifest a past injustice; Efe, whose efforts to earn her keep are motivated by a particular zeal - slowly begin to share their stories. They are stories of terror, of displacement, of love, and of a sinister man called Dele. Bookseller Inventory # AAZ9780099523949

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Book Description Paperback. Book Condition: New. Not Signed; Four very different women have made their way from Africa to Brussels. They have come to claim for themselves the riches they believe Europe promises but when Sisi, the most enigmatic of the women, is murdered, their already fragile world is shattered. Drawn together by tragedy, the remaining three. book. Bookseller Inventory # ria9780099523949_rkm

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Book Description Vintage. Book Condition: New. 2013. Paperback. Sisi, Ama, Efe and Joyce are prostitutes, the girls who stand in the windows of the red-light district, promising to make men's dreams come true - if only for half an hour and fifty euros. The murder of Sisi, the most enigmatic of the women, shatters their already fragile world. Num Pages: 304 pages. BIC Classification: FA. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 198 x 130 x 19. Weight in Grams: 220. . . . . . Books ship from the US and Ireland. Bookseller Inventory # V9780099523949

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Book Description Vintage, 2013. Book Condition: New. 2013. Paperback. Sisi, Ama, Efe and Joyce are prostitutes, the girls who stand in the windows of the red-light district, promising to make men's dreams come true - if only for half an hour and fifty euros. The murder of Sisi, the most enigmatic of the women, shatters their already fragile world. Num Pages: 304 pages. BIC Classification: FA. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 198 x 130 x 19. Weight in Grams: 220. . . . . . . Bookseller Inventory # V9780099523949

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