From Black Voices — Nigerian author Chika Unigwe marks her debut in the United States with ‘On Black Sisters Street,’ a masterful sketch of four women from Africa who make their way to Belgium in hopes of building better lives for themselves. Unfortunately, they end up working on Antwerp’s Zwartezusterstraat as prostitutes, lured there by false promises and empty hopes.
Unigwe draws a rich tapestry of arresting characters that will remain with readers long after they cease reading the pages. One character, Sisi, was coaxed to Zwartezusterstraat, or Black Sisters Street, by a Belgian businessman who made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. Full of hope and expectations, she leaves the dreary and destitute streets of Lagos only to find the same and worse in Antwerp.
Unigwe, who lives in Turnhout, Belgium, with her husband and four sons, spent years researching the novel and even dressed in skimpy clothes and thigh-high boot to gather details for this must-read story.
BV on Books caught up with Unigwe recently via e-mail to discuss her novel, what it was like to walk alongside the women on the cobblestone streets of the red-light district and what she’s up to next.
BV: Are you excited about your U.S. debut novel?
Cnika Unigwe: I am very excited. America is an important market, and I feel very privileged to be published there and by Random House, no less.
BV: How did you come up with the idea for ‘On Black Sisters Street’?
CU: From the first time I saw the women behind their display windows, and learned that a majority of the African ones were Nigerian, I wanted to know what their stories were. ‘On Black Sisters Street’ was written in answer to my questions.