Wednesday, August 8, 2012

#BookReview: On Black Sisters Street - Chika Unigwe

Often when we read of women that work in the sex industry, they're there because they've been tricked or forced into it.  But, for the most part, the women of On Black Sisters Street left their homes in Nigeria for Belgium willingly.  In her sophomore novel, Chika Unigwe tells their stories skillfully.

Joyce, Ama, Efe and Sisi work in the red light district of Antwerp, while living under the same roof.  Though the women are polite to each other, as flat mates are, they are really just acquaintances, not friends.  Joined together by their profession, for whom they work and from where they've come, they only know of each other the little that is shared.  All of that changes the day Sisi goes missing.

As the women grieve for their departed friend, each begins to tell her story.  One came to Antwerp to make money to send back home for the child she had with a married man; another came because even with a degree from university, she could not find a job and she was tired of disappointing her parents who believed that a degree would surely lift them out of poverty.  Still another comes because her mother has chosen between her and the father that raped her for years and another because she felt she had no other choice.

Intertwined with the women's stories is Sisi's story.  While the author does not go into detail about the lives of the other women outside of the house, we can imagine that it's much like Sisi's, whose story is told from the past and present perspectives.  Each of the women pays the gentleman that brought them over from Nigeria, as well as the madam of their house, so that little is left over for them.  Yet each woman dreams of the day her debt is repaid and she can begin the life that she has imagined for herself.  The hopelessness that comes with the realization that you may never repay your debt might be enough for you to walk away from it all.  And if you do, do you tell your flat mates, or do you let them believe otherwise?

I bought On Black Sisters Street earlier this year while @Litfangrl was in town and we were leisurely perusing the used book section of Left Bank Books.  While the book had been on my to be read list on Goodreads for awhile, I hadn't made much effort to purchase it.  I could kick myself for waiting so long.  I was intrigued by each woman's story and I'm dying to read more from Unigwe.  Her first book, The Phoenix, has yet to be published in the states, but  I can't wait to dig into her new novel, Night Dancer.

Published: April 2011

Four Women by Simone, Lizz Wright & Dianne Reeves

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