15 Nov / On Black Sisters Street by Chika Unigwe
Four women, living together in a house in Antwerp, Belgium, are “[t]hrown together by a conspiracy of fate and a loud man called Dele.” They have escaped their lives in Africa, but only at the cost of their freedom; Dele, who orchestrated their immigration, now controls their bodies which each must sell over and over again in order to repay their enormous debts.
By page 30, one of the four women is dead and her murderer is bluntly revealed. Her death – ironically and tragically – is the impetus that binds the remaining three together beyond their shared address, their shared customers, their owners and handlers. Efe and the better life she will make for the young son she left behind, Ama and the hypocritical man of God who was supposed to be her father, and Joyce and her nightmarish memories of death, destruction, and desertion, will each survive. Only Sisi, unwilling to accept her unexciting life with her disappointed aging parents and her less-than-ambitious boyfriend, has paid for her dreams with her violent demise.
Chika Unigwe – whose debut novel, De Feniks, holds the distinction of being the first fiction title written by a Flemish writer of African origin – makes her Stateside debut with Black Sisters, originally published in Dutch as Fata Morgana. [Slight aside: Rather mysteriously, no translator is credited in the 2011 U.S. edition, although a note is added about a “slightly different” English translation which was published in the U.K. in 2009; no mention of a U.K. translator, either. Hmmm.] According to the enclosed PR materials, Unigwe, herself an immigrant from Nigeria, was so curious about the red-light district women in Antwerp that she donned “skimpy clothing and thigh-high boots” and spent two years researching these women’s lives, so different from her own middle-class Catholic upbringing.
With wide-open, unflinching eyes, Unigwe layers and weaves her experiences of being among the women. Beyond the unthinkable challenges the women face daily, Unigwe carefully reveals four individual, flawed, searching women who are far more than mere victims of the age-old oppressive sex trade. With their desperation, she finds small moments of peace. With their frustration and longing, she gives substance to the glimmers of hope for a different future. Unigwe finds and celebrates their humanity, even in a world so blindly determined on its very destruction.
Published: 2011 (United States)