I was in the library (my second home) browsing the ‘black literature’ section and a security guard was walking around (as they do) and asked me…
‘Have you read books by African authors?’ I answered yes, and stated a few African-American and Black British authors whose work I admire (since he’s next question was ‘which ones?’. He said
‘I mean real African literature. Have you read any authors?’ The answer was no.
So this is the first book I have read from an African author.
Four women are united and share the stories of their difficult past after Sisi, their friend, is killed. Efe, Ama and Joyce share their heart-breaking stories as the truth about Sisi’s death is gradually revealed.
Like I said I loved this book!
The book is set in red light district of Antwerp, Belgium, where we are introduced to four women who were trafficked to Belgium from Nigeria to work as prostitutes. After the death of Sisi (one of the four women) Joyce, Ama and Efe come together at their home (in Zwartezusterstraat) and begin reminiscing on their lives. One thing that connected these girls is their passion to achieve their visions. The novel smoothly flows between each girls story and the moments leading up to Sisi’s death.
Dele was a central character who connects these girls together. As each girl tells there story it is almost as if we are waiting for ‘the moment that went wrong’ and when this man’s name is mentioned as the reader you can foresee each girls dreams being wrecked, each time a shiver runs down and we know what will happen, but we are just waiting on how.
One of the reviews for the book read a voice to those who are voiceless, and I felt the author did a great job in giving these misunderstood women some substance through telling their stories. We do find that these women knew somewhat what they were getting into when they agreed to travel abroad (something each of them were promised by a man named Dele on separate occasions), driven by desperation to start a new and better life in the famous Europe, they took the offer, and Unigwe captures the image of shattered lives well.
Unigwe reveals each woman’s story like an onion being pealed. The narrator takes us through layers of their lives, from childhood, until the point they arrive in Brussels. Each story is different, exploring topics women are facing daily across the world, rape, child abuse, war, relationships. As each woman grows up they learn lessons from the adults around them, lessons which shape their views in adult life.
The book feels so personal, as if you are in the room listening; you feel excited, frustrated, sad, angry, relieved (and all the rest) with them. I especially liked the way the author refers to the future, showing that there is still hope and their stories are not over (what the girls are still not aware of, but the narrator foresees). Although the story ends with Sisi’s murder mystery being revealed, we have an insight on each girls future and I thought that gave the story a strong close.
I would recommend this book to a friend; it is a serious story with laugh out loud moments, and moments of disbelief. I loved the way cultural differences where explained, and how warm the author felt. It was like listening to an auntie speak (where else would you hear ‘the past is like juice from a cashew. It sticks. And whatever it stains it stains for good’).
I also felt this book opened my eyes to those in society that we look down on, and this book also expressed the power of dreams; as throughout the book dreams keep these girls alive.