The Middle Daughter (Dzanc Books, 2023) by Chika Unigwe opens with a happy, well-to-do family living in a guarded community in Nigeria. The loving father owns a business, the formidable mother is a doctor, one daughter is at university in America and the other daughters are in private school. The story is told from the perspective of the youngest daughter, Ugo, and middle daughter, Nani, whose life in thrown off balance by the death of her father. A single bad choice leads to her giving up a college education in America to become a browbeaten mother of three married to an abusive husband who keeps her locked in a tiny apartment, chops off her hair and buys her ugly polyester dresses. Like Persephone in the underworld, she’s unable to see or contact her powerful mother. When she has an opportunity to escape, she needs strength and courage that she isn’t sure she possesses.
Chika Unigwe was born and raised in Enugu, a hilly city in the southeast of Nigeria. Also known as the coal city because it was a significant coal mining city in the 1900s, Enugu literally means "top of the hill." In elementary school, Chika was enamored with the magazine Highlights for Children that a friend brought to school. Her parents, who encouraged reading, took out a subscription for her and her sister, and Unigwe spent years sending in stories and poems to the magazine, with no success. At the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where she earned her BA in English, she met the man who would become her husband. Right after her final exams, they moved to Belgium, and her family relocated to the United States in 2013. Unigwe has won several awards for her writing and was most recently knighted into the Order of the Crown by the Belgian government for her contributions to culture (in literature). Her previous works include On Black Sisters Street (which won the $100,000 Nigeria Prize for Literature), Night Dancer, and a collection of short stories, Better Never than Late. Her works have appeared in The New York Times, Guernica, Aeon, The Kenyon Review, Wasafiri, Georgia Review and others. She teaches at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, and lives in Atlanta with her family and two spoilt dogs.