notes on dutch literature

On Black Sisters’ Street

In Pick of the Week on November 22, 2012 at 8:00 AM


The Guardian calls Chika Unigwe one of the most probing, thought-provoking writers of the recent renaissance in African fiction. Unigwe is a Nigerian living in Belgium, she writes in both English and Dutch. Her first novel, De Feniks, was published in Dutch by Meulenhoff / Manteau in September 2005; it is the first book of fiction written by a Flemish author of African origin. The story, set in Turnhout, explores themes such as grief, illness and loneliness, subjects already touched upon in Unigwe’s earlier work. By featuring a central character who shares the novelist’s Afro-European background, the narrative also exposes some shortcomings of Belgian society, like its pervasive unwelcoming atmosphere and the superficiality of many of its inhabitants.

Her impressive second novel, 2009’s On Black Sisters’ Street (published by Vintage, UK and Random House, US) went behind the scenes of the sex industry to explore the complicated reasons why four African women end up as prostitutes in the red-light district of Antwerp. Unigwe tells the stories of four African sex workers sharing an apartment in Antwerp’s red-light district. But it is only when Sisi, the rebel among them, is murdered, that her three housemates emerge from their self-protective anonymity to share their family histories.

With Night Dancer (published by Jonathan Cape, UK), Unigwe continues her project of tackling big issues through superb portrayals of complex female characters, and immersing us in the dramas of their lives. Night Dancer is set in Nigeria (Enugu to be exact) and tells the story of Mma and her stubborn mother Ezi. Ezi’s unexpected death leads Mma to learn about her mother’s past and rethink the resentment and contempt she has held for her mother her whole life. Mma resents her mother who likes to say things twice like ‘dance-dance’ and ‘happy-happy’ and who won’t let Mma know anything about her father – Ezi left her husband, Mike, and life in Kaduna, when Mma was a baby to raise her as a single mother.

For more reviews: New York Times, The GuardianBookshy. More information about the author:


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