On Black Sisters Street: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 26, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
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“ [‘On Black Sisters Street’ is] boiling with a sly, generous humor. Unigwe is as adept at conveying the cacophony of a Nigerian bus as she is at suggesting the larger historical events that propel her characters. ‘On Black Sisters Street’ marks the arrival of a latter-day Thackeray, an Afro-Belgian writer who probes with passion, grace and comic verve the underbelly of our globalized new world economy.”
--The New York Times Book Review (*an Editors Choice selection in the 5/10 NYTBR)
“Powerful....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, starred review
"Gripping....As Unigwe tells her characters’ stories in interweaving narratives and time lines, the women embody depths of fear and displacement, as well as the will to survive and prosper."
“A novel of desperation, sexual exploitation, and, ultimately, sisterhood. … Unigwe has a talent for capturing the dashed dreams of young women who are stronger than they imagine. … The women’s personal stories are wrenchingly memorable.”
“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.”
“Spellbinding…combines a storyteller’s narrative flair with a reporter’s eye for grim, gritty details about the sex industry. … Nigerian-born Unigwe crafts her characters’ voices with crystalline prose and compassion, in a revelatory work as tough, humane and unsentimental as its heroines.”
“Chika Unigwe’s ON BLACK SISTERS STREET is a grand and compassionate and moving work of art. The best fiction succeeds when it allows a reader to open a door, step into a different world, look about and say, finally, I feel and know this place and these people as if I have visited many times before. Ms. Unigwe has done that for us with all the men and women of her new novel. We owe her much praise and much gratitude.”
—Edward P. Jones, winner of the Pulitzer Prize
"Powerfully and gently, Unigwe gives voice to African women who walk the streets of their nightmares and dreams."
--Sefi Atta, author of Everything Good Will Come
“Chika Unigwe brings an ethnographic eye and masterful storytelling to bear on this complex portrait of African sex workers in Antwerp. Her startlingly physical prose offers a fresh look at lives made and unmade between Europe and Africa.”
--Mateo Taussig-Rubbo, University of Buffalo
“Chika Unigwe has evoked a chilling, brutal, and terrifying world with warmth, compassion, and courage. The voices of degraded African women are clearly heard, their bodies vividly rendered, their sorrows deeply understood, and their humanity ultimately realized. On Black Sisters Street is a dark tale luminously told, a stunningly moving book.”—Lee Siegel, author of Love in a Dead Language
“Chika Unigwe writes with moral urgency nourished by a nuanced understanding of the human condition and prose that is elegantly calibrated. And for all the dark turns her work takes, On Black Sisters Street is suffused with warmth, hard-won wisdom, and a deep compassion.”—Chris Abani, author of Becoming Abigail and Song for Night
“A probing and unsettling exploration of the many factors that lead African women into prostitution in Europe . . . 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
- Publisher : Random House; First U.S. Edition (April 26, 2011)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 272 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1400068339
- ISBN-13 : 978-1400068333
- Item Weight : 1.15 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,209,768 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The author also, strangely, fails to adequately explore the dynamics of trafficking from Nigeria to Europe. Many village women are lured into working in Europe by elites in their villages or small towns -- madams, fetish priests, etc. Before embarking on their journal to Europe -- where they think they will be working as waitresses, domestics, etc -- the madams collude with priests and put the woman through a ritual where she signs an oath as part of the money they lend her, and if she breaks the oath by informing the authorities, she is told that harm will come to herself or her family members. The young women believe in the power of this kind of juju, and are reluctant to inform the authorities of being trafficked after they arrive in Europe. The author writes of her women going to brokers at agencies in the city, to apply for loans to relocate to Europe. This is only one of the ways that women are tricked into trafficking networks, but a far more widespread route begins at the small village level and is based on juju rituals, again blessed by local traditional priests, who receive a cut of the proceeds.
The final issue that some readers may take issue with is the books lack of a linear storyline. It jumps around from character to character and time period to time period.
I have traveled abroad and seen many sex workers, but never really spoke to them. Just a smile here and there and a silent prayer as I went along my way, never having to deal with their realities. But On Black Sisters Street elegantly and matter-of-factually puts the truths of thousands of sex slaves, victims of sex trafficking, in front of the reader through the lives of 4 fictional women, without an ounce of remorse. And their shouldn't be. These women do not enjoy what they do, but after having been flown to other countries on illegal visas, that were later confiscated by their madame, with the false promise of being nannies, what other choice is there? They must go to work; and that work is whatever the man in front of them desires.
In spite of the lies, sexual abuse, wars, and even death, these women maintain a sense of hope that manages to keep their souls afloat when all hope should have been lost long ago.
This book is a must read. It not an easy read and it will make the reader uncomfortable, but it must be read nonetheless.
This is a well written book despite some difficult passages of dialect. The final plot twist is so subtle that it is nearly impossible to predict and heightened the impact of the ending. It was also refreshing to see a European setting through less than adoring African eyes;where the "gold"
standard was not blonde or stick thin. It will be interesting to see where this writer takes us next.
Top reviews from other countries
Chika Unigwe’s approach of enlisting four protagonists – Sisi, Joyce, Ama and Efe - enabled her to break the construct of the single sex-worker narrative. On Black Sisters’ Street portrays the decision to go into sex work as stemming from more than naiveté and trickery. Nigeria as an economy failing its graduates, women and families creates conditions that allow for a man like Dele to flourish selling the bodies of women not protected by a wealthy home or progressive career prospects. The respect Dele garners simply for being a “big man” is well captured in this narrative. Unigwe also touches on the flexibility of religious beliefs and morality in Nigerian society.
A great deal of the narrative takes place in a room on the wrong side of Brussels as three women bound by their profession are forced to confront the fact that they are strangers living under one roof. They are in unknown territory here, having always had a relationship which skimmed the surface like milk. This meeting is brought about by tragedy; the death of one of their own forces them to pull back the curtains between their past and present and redefine the relationships they have with one another. For the three surviving women, sex becomes a power tool and love plays no part in what happens between the sheets.
The promise of autonomy that informs the women’s decision to go into sex work is so string attached it boggles the mind. Apart from being illegally in the country, the women have no hold of their passports and are 30,000 Euros in debt to Dele who arranges their trip into Brussels. No repayment is not an option - a fact Dele knows given the lack of opportunities for the women back in Nigeria. In OBSS, Chika Unigwe explores tribalism, culture, family, love and loss, and provides a wonderful array of positions on how the sex trade is able to thrive. These women have their stories told in a manner that elevates them from the blasé umbrella of victims. It is not so much that we can relate to their stories, it is simply that we can see them.
Read the full review on our website.
For The Book Banque.
There are some heartbreaking parts when each woman tells her story of how she ended up meeting the mysterious and abhorrent Dele. Whilst you’d have to be incredibly naive to think that things like this don’t happen, the detail made it all the more real.
Sex trafficking is still very much a reality and all because our African governments refuse to look after the citizens that need them the most. The government frustrates you into desperation.
There were parts of the book where it felt like I was trying to get through information so I could capture the emotion but other areas where I was gripped and couldn’t turn away.
The characters were not very authentic either, Dele was completely out of character - a Yoruba man living in Lagos conversing in pidgin. Neither did it seem realistic either for Joyce/Alek to be so versatile in pidgin considering her character wasn't even Nigerian!
A lot of lines were overly exaggerated (seems common with a lot of African writers these days)
Overall, I think the story could have been told much better.