Title: On Black Sisters’ Street
Author: Chika Unigwe
As is often the case, my reading choices are made fairly haphazardly. Chika Unigwe’s book must have come recommended by someone, somewhere because I have it on my Kindle. I read it in less than a week.
On Black Sisters’ Street is a story of four African women: Sisi, Efe, Ama and Joyce all living in Antwerp, Amsterdam working as prostitutes.
Their stories, told from each one’s perspective, about the events that led them to Amsterdam; to working under their Madam whilst paying off their debts to their mutual sponsor Dele, form the backdrop to the central story; the murder of one of their own.
The story opens with Sisi wandering the streets, planning a future that is obviously different to her current life. Introductory chapters, all dedicated to each of the women, reveal just enough about the women to tell of their pasts and give a hint of their personalities. As the women’s stories unfold, as told by each to the others, the women begin to learn more about one another. Their stories are told with all of them gathered in their shared house, mourning the death of Sisi. An intimacy develops between them, something that was never there despite the years they had lived under the same roof in the house on Zwartezusterstraat – Black sisters’ street. Unigwe has provided a colourful array of characters, all with different stories, all from different backgrounds, whose lives tell of the death, the abuse, and the ambition that gets them to Amsterdam.
“Overseas” the reference to living abroad, often coveted by their compatriots is not the glamorised destination any of them had imagined. In the telling of their life stories, the author builds to the end in a circuitous but suspense-filled way.
Spoiler alert: The Madam’s driver, who also works as a handyman is given a personality both suspicious and subtly sinister enough by the author to effectively take away the element of surprise when the identity of Sisi’s murderer is revealed.
I have read the author’s bio and have learnt that she has written other books, themed along the same issue of African women working as prostitutes in Amsterdam. It is an interesting subject that makes one wonder about the various circumstances that lead women to this life. Unigwe has a social anthropologist’s eye for detail.