There are books that you almost fear to read because you expect them to be difficult, emotional, unpleasant or all of the above. This is sort of how I felt about "On Black Sisters Street" by Chika Unigwe. I had no idea what to expect from it - I liked the title but for some reason I didn't expect to like it, possibly because it deals with a wholly unpleasant subject.
Sisi, Efe, Joyce and Ama are all African women who have been trafficked to dark, cold Antwerp to take up places in bars and windows as sex workers, second-class citizens in a country where they have no friends and no family. They have come to seek a better future for themselves and for those at home in Lagos and to reach this goal, they are willing to sacrifice anything. They have only each other and though they have little in common, they are bound together by their misfortunes and tragedies.
Sisi is a university graduate who dreamed of cushy job in a bank, enabling to support her family. When the dream turns to dust, she takes fate into her own hands and sets sail for Europe. Efe is a teenage mother who has to leave her son behind to pay for his school fees. Ama is met with lust instead of love by her Christian step-father and Joyce is a refugee of war.
Unigwe tells the stories of these four, strong, tragic women who have met with so much pain, so much rejection and hurt, yet they still have compassion, they still dream of romance and of happiness. She weaves their stories together, braids them into one story of hope and human unkindness. It is deeply moving but without playing on your emotions. Elegantly written, it tackles difficult subjects - subjects that are violent, evil, in a dignified manner where the violence is present yet not overwhelming. The focus is on the women and the way they are shaped by their experiences. The way they survive it and come out on the other side. It is almost hopeful, but only almost...
Read it if: You dare to confront the dark realities of the world by want to do so while reading a beautiful piece of literary fiction.