Reviewed by Carolyne Muthoni Njihia for Africlectic Magazine
After coming across this book a few times on the shelves, I finally decided to pick up ‘On Black Sisters’ Street’ by Chika Unigwe, a Belgian based writer of Nigerian origin. Having read some good reviews, I’m glad I did.
In brief, it is the story of four different women – Sisi, Ama, Efe, and Joyce – who leave their African homes to pursue the riches of Europe in Antwerp’s red light district. Each woman with her own story and dream, circumstances draw them together to share their individual experiences of fear, displacement, vulnerability and love – all while in the business of prostitution. The story of these four women focuses on the immigrant experience through the lens of the global sex trade, making for a fascinating read.
This was an excellent read. I loved the way Unigwe managed to tell the stories of each woman so vividly and colorfully, demonstrating wonderful literary skill with great simplicity. This book was difficult to put down; it flowed from one page to the next. I particularly loved her deliberate and eloquent use of pidgin throughout the book, as illustrated by Dele, the sinister Lagos pimp, boasting of his girls:
“All my gals, I treat good. I dey tell dem before dem comot…Me I be good man. I just try to help poor gals…I get three lined up. Dem full for front, full for back. I swear, dem go drive oyibo mad. Na beauty queen statistics dem get. You sabi as my gals dey dey nah, no gorillas I dey supply. Na beauty queens. Gals wey carry double Jennifer Lopez nyash.”
Even though ‘On Black Sisters’ Street’ focuses on a very sensitive and unsettling theme, Unigwe is able to depict a highly nuanced narrative of each character, employing humor as she explores the realities and complexities of sex trafficking. She is able to reflect on their pasts, capturing anecdotes that you are sure to relate with, while constructing a real story that tells the reader much more about how sex workers are actually lured into this exploitative industry. Though the stories are fictitious, they are based on well-researched realities.
I highly recommended this read for all lovers of contemporary African writing and those who are interested in learning more about a centuries-old trade that still continues today through the silence of the media.