Efe has been through her own share of life's mistakes. She wants a better life and even before she gets to Belgium she already has an idea how these things work. When Dele asks her if she wants to leave the country, she asks: "'If I wan' go abroad, Oga Dele? Anybody dey ask pikin if de pikin wan' sweet?' Who did not want to go abroad? People were born with the ambition, and people died trying to fulfill that ambition." Efe agrees to Dele's terms and conditions even before she asks him what her job in Antwerp would be.
For Ama who has been burnt by family, Dele's offer is a welcome escape and a ticket to the fulfillment of her aspirations. She accepts his offer and runs with it. Joyce escaped the horrors of Sudan but she still bears the invisible scars. She finds a Nigerian man who brings back sunshine into her life and then he turns around and snatches it away. She vows never to let her happiness depend on another person. Alone with no one who cares for her she works hard to fulfill her dreams.
The individual stories these women divulge puts them in a context that causes us to empathize. They become much more than women who sell their bodies for money. They become human, fleshed out, with understandable behaviors, understandable anguish, needs and wants. Prostitution becomes a product of something much more complex than lax morals and bad choices. It could be the by-product of a convolution of bad circumstances, an unfavorable environment and a series of unfortunate events. Unigwe does not soften the blows life deals out. She does not dole out happy endings to every character. She does not dress up the starkness of their wants, the nakedness of their yearnings. Unigwe does a very good job and I like this novel a lot. I don't know why this is my first Chika Unigwe book but it certainly won't be my last.
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