Between PhD stuff getting in the way and babysitting my beautiful niece I had little time this week to finish more than this book which is a shame as I ended up not really dedicating the time I wanted and just grabbing little moments here and there to read it. Nonetheless I read it and here’s the review
Under the Udala Trees
by Chinelo Okparanta
Inspired by Nigeria’s folktales and its war, Under the Udala Trees is a deeply searching, powerful debut about the dangers of living and loving openly.
Ijeoma comes of age as her nation does; born before independence, she is eleven when civil war breaks out in the young republic of Nigeria. Sent away to safety, she meets another displaced child and they, star-crossed, fall in love. They are from different ethnic communities. They are also both girls.
When their love is discovered, Ijeoma learns that she will have to hide this part of herself. But there is a cost to living inside a lie.
As Edwidge Danticat has made personal the legacy of Haiti’s political coming of age, Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees uses one woman’s lifetime to examine the ways in which Nigerians continue to struggle toward selfhood. Even as their nation contends with and recovers from the effects of war and division, Nigerian lives are also wrecked and lost from taboo and prejudice. This story offers a glimmer of hope — a future where a woman might just be able to shape her life around truth and love.
Slight spoilers, nothing major.
Even though I stole moments here and there to read this book, getting back into the setting, the storyline and the characters of this book was quite easy. Chinelo Okparanta’s way of writing is so captivating you can feel yourself be transported into her world, going through what Ijeoma went through. Ijeoma is the main character of this book, the story is told from her perspective from being a kind of survivor of a civil war in Nigeria to when she first feels attraction towards another woman. The story isn’t just good at portraying the moments of intimacy and attraction between Ijeoma and her two lovers, to being discovered by her mother and the people she had been staying during the civil war. This, in particular, has some very powerful moments in how her mother reacts to her and how she finds herself doubting and questioning her religion and what christianity has to say about her loving a woman. It deals with Ijeoma coming to terms with her identity but also warring with her identity in a country where she is not accepted with a mother that continues praying for her to change. Religion plays a very big part in this book, as comfort, as something to be condemned with, as something that guides your life. It is an important book, especially when you think this is a story that probably resonates with so many given that in 2014 Nigeria (the country where this book develops) passed one of the world’s most punitive laws against same-sex relationships. It is quitely powerful, subtle and simplistic in the way it deals with all sorts of themes. But most of all, it is honest and at times brutal in the way it deals with religion, identity, societal expectations and your own personal beliefs and wants.
I can’t stop thinking and rewriting this review as I think there’s so much more I could say about this book that I haven’t touched upon but there are things I know will completely spoil the book, and I want to avoid doing that. I recommend this wholeheartedly, it is heartbreaking, positive and real. Let yourself be transported into Nigeria and walk in Ieojima’s steps.
Next up is:
I’m really looking forward to reading IWYATB, I’ve heard so much about it and have been keeping myself from opening the book. I should be posting sometime soon the review of both American Dreamer and American Fairytale by Adriana Herrera but no promises on the date of that.
See you next time,