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Fata Morgana

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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. 45 Stars On Black Sisters Street by Chika Unigwe is a difficult novel to read The story centers around four women who are sex workers in Belgium In an all too familiar story the women leave their native Africa for a better life only to end up in Belgium working in the red light district They will never be able to pay back their trafficker and must endure a life of violence loneliness and rape One of the women Sisi is murdered While the book is a work of fiction one can only think of the women and children world over and in our own backyards who are being sex and labor trafficked The book left me sad angry and tired Unigwe is a talented the writer and is even able to infuse some humor into the horrific story


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 powerful sinister strang. This is the story of 4 black African girls living together in Antwerp Belgium Each of them owe an enormous amount of money to Dele a Nigerian in Lagos who has facilitated their arrival in Europe To pay him off they must sell their bodies to the sex starved men of AntwerpWhen I began reading the book I was a little confused but after re reading the first few pages a couple of times I was rapidly sucked into this charming novel Gradually we learn about the lives and ambitions of the 4 women and how and why they have ended up as prostitutes in a Belgian city It is not only a compelling tale that makes one want to move from one page to the next as soon as possible but also a revealing series of insights about life in 'black' Africa Although there are several sad strands running through the book I was not left feeling depressed but oddly upliftedChika Uniwe the Nigerian author of this novel is like her compatriot Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie a good story teller She is able to conjure up vivid images in the reader's mind despite being extremely economical with her language She creates a brilliant picture in few words I look forward to reading books by Ms Unigwe

Chika Unigwe ò 1 CHARACTERS

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 futureThen suddenly a murder shatters the still surface of their lives Drawn together. “That first experience of sex was so painful in its ordinariness that she had spent days wanting to cry” On Black Sisters Street by Chika Unigwe is a novel about four African sex workers who by distinct and tragic means travel from their home countries to work in the red light district of Antwerp Belgium The story begins with Sisi perhaps the most complicated character who turns to prostitution because of a failure of all the options in her life perhaps most stunningly education the holy grail that has been held up by her own thwarted parents to be their saviour “A prophecy that would rinse her life in a Technicolor glow” ends up failing them all It is a testament to Ms Unigwe’s understanding of the economies of mega cities and the politics of those societies in particular Lagos that we can see how Sisi’s ambitions burn out inexorably one by one “Count your teeth with your tongue welu ile gi guo eze gi no and tell me what you come up with”Sisi’s apparent murder at the beginning of the book draws her three housemates together in a series of confessions revealing their own rich backstories and ambitions Ama hails from Enugu in southeastern Nigeria where Ms Unigwe and I were both born an angry tempestuous woman with violence and oppression marking her past Efe is from Lagos a young mother abandoned by the father of her child and now seeking a better or at least monied life to support her son and siblings And Joyce is from war torn Sudan perhaps the most beautiful of the four and the most desperately alone“He laughed A laughter that stretched itself into a suare that kept him safe”Ms Unigwe never stoops to cliche nor self pity Some of the reviews of OBSS have mentioned the stereotypical male characters who are unilaterally awful human beings but honestly that particular critiue means little to me Those men are all based on real people we know them or of them and I was interested in how well the female characters are realized Each of the four main female characters is fully and distinctly drawn and the writing like their lives is sometimes plain sometimes glorious “She went in and bought a sandwich with lettuce spilling out the sides ruffled and moist”“here were drunks with eyes like uarter moons and throats full of stories”I love the Igbo interspersed with the English sometimes translated often not as well as the pidgin that some of them speak Here are three lovely examples “I liked the look of the woman Ugly Ojoka but in a very attractive way”“I saw this with my own koro koro eyes” “With my height if I no wear heels I go be like full stop on the ground”The women are reaching for “the life of the rich and the arrived” and their end goals and ambitions are as varied as their personalities But it is their particular histories that tie this clear spoken heartbreaking book together how very different people can come together and move on “the Udi Hills surrounding Enugu rolling and folding into one another like an enormous piece of green cloth”Ms Unigwe’s first two novels were written in Dutch making her the first Flemish writer of African origin and her next two have been in English This kind of language proficiency is just marvelous let alone how challenging it seems to me to write a book about sex workers that has the ring of resonance and truth all around I’m much looking forward to reading her other work those written and those to come “The road is far uzo eteka

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