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On Black Sisters Street (2008)

by Chika Unigwe

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19112113,369 (3.33)37
Working as prostitutes in Antwerp's red-light district, four African women are shattered by the murder of one of their number and are brought closer together by the personal histories that they previously hid from one another.
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English (11)  Dutch (1)  All languages (12)
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
This took so long to get started and as we got to know the women, it definitely warmed up, but the way the novel was set up was kind of clunky and felt more like a data dump than a story. Part of me thinks that Unigwe could have done better doing a "[b:The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria|28427125|The Morning They Came for Us Dispatches from Syria|Janine Di Giovanni|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1451694930s/28427125.jpg|48535308]"-style bit of journalism. Now, given the danger of doing that, it might have been better to do fiction, but I think these stories work better in a creative non-fiction format. ( )
1 vote jeninmotion | Sep 27, 2018 |
A well written book with very strong stories about loss, self respect, sisterhood and (broken) dreams! ( )
  therska | Apr 22, 2018 |
Four African women have been lured to Europe to work in the sex trade. Each has had a traumatic childhood and the promise of a better life has led them to accept becoming prostitutes. When one is killed, the other three bond and reveal their real life stories. The difficult subject matter is dealt with in a rather straightforward, almost journalistic, manner. ( )
  seeword | Apr 26, 2017 |
Brilliantly crafted novel; four African women and their madam live together and work in Antwerp's Red Light district. When one of them is killed early on, the others begin to bond, sharing their very different life experiences that caused them to end up here. The author deftly interweaves the present day with their histories- including that of the dead woman.
Fascinating and moving read. ( )
  starbox | Jul 9, 2016 |
"There were worse things to become, she reminded herself. She was not a robber, not a cheat, not a 419er sending deceitful e-mails to gullible Westerners. She would make her money honestly. Every cent of it would be earned by her sweat. She did not need to enjoy her job, but she would do it well."

i am having trouble rating this novel. the issues unigwe highlights are very important, and telling these stories is important. we are given four women who have been trafficked from lagos, nigeria to antwerp, belgium, in order to work as prostitutes. three of the women are nigerian. one is sudanese. they are saddled with a nearly insurmountable debt ($30,000 euros) they must repay and it seems a vicious cycle from which they will never escape. three of the four women go into the agreement aware of what is expected of them. the fourth woman believes she will be working as a nanny. of course the reality of their lives in antwerp is horrible. but as we are given the women's backstories, their realities at home were incredibly hard. atrocious. these women - sisi, ama, efe, and alek - are survivors. the dreams each of these women had was powerful. their desires to get to europe or north america so strong. so when given an offer from dele - the man running the operation in lagos - each woman grabs for the escape, and then endures the work as prostitutes. i feel as though the question of what makes a victim is a large part of this story. sisi, ama, efe, and joyce seem to refuse to characterize themselves as such, no matter how tragic the circumstances that pushed them to choose life as prostitutes. (and, of course, the question of choice for these women is also an interesting idea for discussion and consideration.)

i found, though, that unigwe was not consistent in her storytelling. some moments we are given quite deep looks into the lives of the characters. but at other times ideas, places, or characters, are just barely skimmed. and i found the writing could be quite thin at moments, then weirdly overwritten at other moments - the use of language, from the very simple (precise, straightforward), to the dialects, was interesting to me. but every now and then a $20 word would stick out like a sore thumb. so i felt like there was a bit of a struggle for voice going on with the author. by the end of the book, i felt like unigwe had presented stories of four interesting women.... but she didn't really give us the women - if that makes sense? in their strength and defiance we have some pretty fierce (in a good way) female characters. but they never developed, for me, to their full potential. and the men of the book served as a huge fault for me. they are so contemptible and they come off as stereotypes. they are pimps, johns, drunks, rapists, adulterers, murderers, and one (white) jealous saviour.

i read that unigwe did a lot of research with women working in antwerp's red-light district. and i am glad that she was compelled to fictionalize these lives and situations. it's an unsettling novel she's given readers - and it should be! but it is not a story devoid of hope. that, in itself, is a rather remarkable achievement. i just wish i felt the writing to be stronger. ( )
1 vote JooniperD | Feb 28, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
In fact, big dreams are why the women decide to work in the sex trade in exchange for passage to Europe, which they view as a paradise of opportunity and riches, far removed from the crushing squalor and bleak opportunities in Africa. The question of what makes a victim is very much at the core of this chilling piece of fiction. And the women — Sisi, Ama, Joyce and Efe — refuse to characterize themselves as such, no matter how tragic the circumstances that pushed them to choose life as prostitutes.
 
Unigwe conveys both what is miraculous about the West to foreign eyes and what is awful — how people live and die alone, unmourned, without the sustenance of family and neighbors. And she shows us how the women who survive their pact with Dele choose to deploy their hard-won wealth. While Efe stays put, running her own brothel, Joyce and Ama prefer to build their businesses back home.

Despite the horrors it depicts, “On Black Sisters Street” is also 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.
 
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Epigraph
Armed with a vagina and the will to survive, she knew that destitution would never lay claim to her.

-----Brian Chikwava, Seventh Street Alchemy
Dedication
To Jan and our four sons:
for their incredible capacity
to tolerate my moods

To the ABC Triumverates--
Arac de Nyeko, Monica; Batanda Budesta,
Jackee; and Chikwava, Brian--
for being there from A to Z
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The world was exactly as it should be.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Working as prostitutes in Antwerp's red-light district, four African women are shattered by the murder of one of their number and are brought closer together by the personal histories that they previously hid from one another.

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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.
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