"On Black Sisters Street" by Chika Unigwe


Every night, Sisi, Ama, Efe, and Joyce stand in windows of the red-light district of Antwerp, Belgium, waiting for their next customer.  This isn't what any of the women had planned for when they immigrated from Africa.  However, they must stay focused on doing what they need to do to start a new life.  

But when Sisi does not come home one night, the women must face the fact that this life will be harder to escape from than they thought.

On Black Sisters Street by Chika Unigwe, winner of the 2012 Nigeria Prize for Literature, is a novel of importance, a voice for the women throughout the world who are sold and trafficked.  Unigwe spent time interviewing African sex workers in Antwerp, which leads to the honest and brutal story that makes up this novel.

Sisi, Joyce, Ama, and Efe all come from troubled backgrounds back home in Nigeria.  They are abused, abandoned, unemployed, and alone.  They have dreams of bigger and better lives, and their saviour comes in the form of Senghor Dele, a man who exports women to Europe.  The women don't fully understand what it is he is doing until they arrive overseas and at that point are trapped in debt to him.  

I have read a few books about the trafficking of women but I have never read about it in fictional form, until now.  It's very obvious that this is a well-researched book and appears that Unigwe has stayed true to the stories of the women she has interviewed.  It's difficult to read this as fiction when you know that around the world millions of women and children are forced into this kind of life.  But it is a look at how women end up here and the ways in which they push forward in the hopes of making it out and building a life for themselves.

My only criticism of the book is the way in which it is formatted.  It tells the story of the four women and jumps back and forth between them, as well as back and forth in time, between their lives in Nigeria and their lives in Belgium.  For me personally, it would have flowed better if it was more straightforward in time (maybe started in the present, went to the past then through to the present again.)  

However, I'm not the award winning writer, and Unigwe is very deserving of the acclaim she has received for her work.  Her name has taken its place amongst the top modern African writers and her writing goes beyond one people or continent.  I look forward to more of the stories she has tell.

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