Book Review: On Black Sisters’ Street

by Bemgba Nyakuma

Many a happiness in life, as many a disaster, the poet Maurice Maeterlinck once said, can be due to chance, but the peace within us can never be governed by chance. On reading “On Black Sisters’ Street” the book by Chika Unigwe one cannot help but relate the plot to the words of the Belgian poet and essayist.

It is a tale of broken promises, sadness, hopelessness, cruelty, murder and the many vices and injustices often faced by immigrants away from home. It is the tale of four strong willed women determined to face up to the challenges of the unfair chance that life and fate has bestowed upon them. Their lives and fortunes aggravated and orchestrated by their pimp called Senghor Dele and an emotionless woman known simply as Madam, with whom they share a house on Zwartezusterstraat – “Black Sisters Street”. As time and the plot unfold in the story the women soon discover strength in their collective misfortune and strive to rise above their indignity, pain and humiliation that accompany their lives as prostitutes. But their sisterhood is soon cut short by the gruesome murder of Sisi.

Set in the Belgian city of Antwerp (the diamond capital of the world) the book chronicles the not so glittery tales of Ama, Efe, Joyce and Sisi, their lives and travails as immigrant prostitutes. The book paints a vivid picture of the realities of life faced by illegal immigrants in one of many European cities.

In telling the story Chika Unigwe employed a diction that reads like a cross between Chinua Achebe and Ben Okri. The use of simple yet emphatic diction to chronicle this tale will appeal even to the most casual reader without feeling like a documentary or obvious literature – something Chimamanda Adichie describes as poor literature. The blend of Pidgin English, modern English will appeal to a great deal of readers and in particular the mix of English and Ibo phrases and proverbs indeed reads like the Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

In précis, the book is a written work of prose in spite of its delicate, sad plot. Chika Unigwe’s book is a story of modern slave trade and a definite must read for every one especially budding young people back in Africa who often have mighty utopian dreams about life in Europe. “On Black Sisters’ Street” may well be a “look before you leap” warning-cum-eye opener to people back in Africa and around the world whose circumstances may easily be preyed upon by the grand, utopian stories of pimps and people traffickers. It is an ode to the generation of young African prostitutes living in Europe and their lives as commercial sex workers. In the words of the maverick poet Maurice Maeterlinck; the lives of Ama, Efe, Joyce and Sisi may have been a disaster in Zwartezusterstraat; but their lives will remain a testimony to fact that life, peace and happiness of mankind can never be governed by chance. Need I say more?

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