The Unlikely Bookworm

Review: On Black Sisters’ Street – Chika Unigwe

On our third evening at The Hurst, The Arvon Foundation’s scenic centre in Shropshire, we were lucky enough to have writer Chika Unigwe as a guest speaker. Nigerian Chika now resides in Belgium with her husband and four children and is the winner of the 2003 BBC Short Story Competition, A Commonwealth Short Story Award and a Flemish literary prize for ‘De Smaak van Sneeuw’.

I was both impressed and inspired by Chika’s style of writing and wanting to read one of her novels in full, began On Black Sisters’ Street during my time at The Hurst.

During our time with Chika we had a Q&A session in which we were able to ask for writing tips and advice and amongst other subjects we discussed the way in which she conducted her research for On Black Sisters’ Street. And unlike many authors, whose research goes no further than their desk, Chika visited the heart of the red-light district in Antwerp to find out more about the place which was to form the bright and seedy backdrop to her second novel.

On Black Sisters’ Street follows the lives of four Nigerian women – Sisi, Efe, Ama and Joyce – all of whom have left behind their native Africa to make a living as sex-workers in Belgium. As the plot develops, Chika breathes life into the existence of these four women, who are ‘Persona non grata’ in Belgium; void of both legal and moral rights.

As the story progresses, the reader learns more about each of the four women’s backgrounds and the individual tragedies which have taken them to the streets of Antwerp.

Chika’s writing is both beautiful and evocative and it offers a perfect contrast to the always harrowing, and often grotesque stories that are woven through the text. It is a haunting, beautiful read that explores the injustice many women face today in a world that is far from still equal. A thought-provoking novel, On Black Sisters’ Street deals with issues of naivety, humiliation, rape and forgotten dreams; leaving the reader questioning the luck of their own fate and their prejudices of others.

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