On Black Sisters Street
By Chika Unigwe
(Random House, Hardcover, 9781400068333, 272pp.)
Publication Date: April 26, 2011
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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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.
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.
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.
Praise for On Black Sisters Street
“ [‘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