On Black Sisters’ Street

Chika Unigwe
Jonathan Cape

Sisi, Ama, Efe and Joyce are prostitutes, illegally trafficked into Antwerp to profit the unctuous Dele. The action pivots around the house on Zwarterzusterstraat, where the four young women share their lives under the watchful eyes of their Madam and her baleful aide Segun.

As illegal workers in Belgium, the women concealed their true names and pasts even from each other. It takes the murder of the most enigmatic of the group, Sisi, to shock Ama, Efe and Joyce into revealing their true selves. The women’s narratives reveal histories torn apart by war, sexual abuse and family breakdown. Poverty made the women vulnerable to the solicitous attentions of Dele, and the desperate desire to escape their circumstances for the mirage of an affluent new life in the West.

At times heartbreaking and disturbingly graphic, On Black Sisters’ Street is ultimately a story of female strength and resilience. With the narrative interspersed with African turn of phrase, the book draws on a rich oral story telling tradition to illuminate the West from an under-represented perspective.

Samantha Cracknell