On Black Sisters Street: Book summary and reviews of On Black Sisters Street by Chika Unigwe

On Black Sisters Street

A Novel

by Chika Unigwe

On Black Sisters Street by Chika Unigwe X
On Black Sisters Street by Chika Unigwe
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  • Published in USA  Apr 2011
    272 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

On Black Sisters Street tells the haunting story of four very different women who have left their African homeland for the riches of Europe - and who are thrown together by bad luck and big dreams into a sisterhood that will change their lives.

Each night, Sisi, Ama, Efe, and Joyce stand in the windows of Antwerp's red-light district, promising to make men's desires come true - if only for half an hour. Pledged to the fierce Madam and a mysterious pimp named Dele, the girls share an apartment but little else - they keep their heads down, knowing that one step out of line could cost them a week's wages. They open their bodies to strangers but their hearts to no one, each focused on earning enough to get herself free, to send money home or save up for her own future.

Then, suddenly, a murder shatters the still surface of their lives. Drawn together by tragedy and the loss of one of their own, the women realize that they must choose between their secrets and their safety. As they begin to tell their stories, their confessions reveal the face in Efe's hidden photograph, Ama's lifelong search for a father, Joyce's true name, and Sisi's deepest secrets - and all their tales of fear, displacement, and love, concluding in a chance meeting with a handsome, sinister stranger.

On Black Sisters Street marks the U.S. publication debut of Chika Unigwe, a brilliant new writer and a standout voice among contemporary African authors. Raw, vivid, unforgettable, and inspired by a powerful oral storytelling tradition, this novel illuminates the dream of the West - and that dream's illusion and annihilation - as seen through African eyes. It is a story of courage, unity, and hope, of women's friendships and of bonds that, once forged, cannot be broken.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. 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." - Publishers Weekly

"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." - Library Journal

"In her English-language debut, the Nigerian-born Unigwe convincingly exposes an unfamiliar world without sentimentality... Capable drama that puts a human face on the scourge of human trafficking." - Kirkus Reviews

"An important and accomplished novel that leaves a strong aftertaste. Unigwe gives voice to those who are voiceless... and bestows dignity on those who are stripped of it." - The Independent (UK)

"It is frustrating that the male figures are either abusive or weakly passive ciphers. And the girls themselves... fail to break out of the creative-writing exercise mould of how to portray lonely prostitutes battling against the world." - The Guardian (UK)

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Reader Reviews

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Rita

Rita's Review of On Black Sisters Street
This novel is set in Antwerp and recounts the stories of four women who work here as immigrant prostitutes. I think that the merits of this novel are twofold: first, it gives one insight into life in Nigeria in today's world; and, secondly, and most importantly, it gives one real empathy for women in a working situation that tends to elicit scorn from most people. One gains understanding of how young girls can get into such a situation and not just poor African girls and how and why they deal with the situation. This is an easy read in terms of writing style but may not be the most uplifting book you will read this year.

Kelli Robinson

Be Transported to Nigeria and Belgium
I discovered this book while looking for a Nigerian author for a reading challenge. As with any book set outside of the United States, I liked being transported to two different countries: Nigeria and Belgium, neither of which I had ever visited. I also liked the structure of the book as it moved from the present in Belgium and the mystery surrounding the murder of a fellow sex worker back to the pasts of four different women and their paths from Africa to Europe and to their current trade. This book is dark and the naivete of the characters seems a bit unrealistic at times, but I found myself moving through the story quickly. Men are the aggressors throughout the book but that part of the story seems based on an all-to-often reality for many women in many parts of the world.

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Author Information

Chika Unigwe

Chika Unigwe was born in Nigeria and now lives in Belgium with her husband and four children. She was a 2008 UNESCO-Aschberg fellow and a 2009 Rockefeller Foundation fellow (at the Bellagio Center), and she holds a Ph.D. from the University of Leiden. She is the recipient of several awards for her writing, including first prize in the 2003 BBC Short Story Competition and a Commonwealth Short Story Competition award. In 2004 she was shortlisted for the Caine prize for African Writing. Her stories have been on BBC World Service and Radio Nigeria. Her first novel, De Feniks, was published in Dutch in 2005.

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