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Four African women hoping for brighter futures find opportunity—and tragedy—working as prostitutes in Belgium.

While standing in the windows of Antwerp’s red-light district (and sexually servicing up to 15 men a day) might not be anyone’s idea of a dream job, it does offer the young immigrant roommates at the heart of this page-turner a chance at a better life. Although their personal motivations differ, they are united by their obligation to Dele, a portly, powerful Nigerian “businessman.” Based in Lagos, he offers them passports and travel expenses with the stipulation that they send him a hefty cut of their earnings each month to pay off their considerable debt. Once in Antwerp they are placed under the care of “Madam,” a hard-nosed African woman with questionable loyalties. Sisi, the most educated of the group, leaves behind a good man, Peter, whose modest ambitions don’t mesh with her big dreams. Efe sacrifices her own happiness to support her young son L.I., who lives back home with her younger sister, while moody Ama flees an abusive stepfather. The youngest, Joyce, was born Alek in Southern Sudan. A survivor of wartime atrocities, including rape, she follows Polycarp, a kindly seeming Nigerian soldier, back to Lagos. But their romance sours when Polycarp’s mother forbids him from marrying the refugee. He then goes to Dele and pays Joyce’s way to Belgium, where she, unlike the other women, initially believes she will be working as a nanny. In spite of her reluctance, her beauty soon attracts a devoted clientele, while she plots to someday open a boutique back in Africa. Sharing a modest apartment, the women bicker and bond until Sisi meets Luc, a white banker, in a Pentecostal church. He pursues her, offering a way out from the brothel. But Sisi’s belief that she can escape Dele’s considerable reach proves to be a fatal mistake, with far-reaching consequences for the others. In her English-language debut, the Nigerian-born Unigwe convincingly exposes an unfamiliar world without sentimentality.

Capable drama that puts a human face on the scourge of human trafficking.
Pub Date: April 26th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6833-3
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2011


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