08 February 2018

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

Series: N/A
# of Pages: 328
Publication: September 22nd, 2015
Source: Library Audiobook
Genre: Literary Fiction
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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.

First let me say that I actually picked his book up on a whim. I had no idea what it was about and why so many people loved it. I needed another audiobook to listen to at work and this book stood out to me amongst all of the other books. I can't believe that I didn't read this book last year. It was truly amazing. I couldn't have asked for more. The writing was elegant, simple yet created this passionate and heartbreaking narrative of the LGBT community in Nigeria. While I don't have much knowledge of the community in terms of various African nations, I did know that it is not typically accepted and could be punished by jail time. I remember Trevor Noah doing a stand up segment in which he discussed his first time learning that in Zambia there were police officers who went undercover to discover whether people were gay or not and then proceeded to have them arrested. Understanding this and then watching the plight of the main character made the story that much more dynamic. I found the relationship between Ijeoma and her mother to be interesting. Her mother clearly had trouble coping after the father died and didn't understand how to effectively be there for her daughter. She is also the forefront and reasoning for understanding why and how religion plays such a huge role in the entire concept of the book. I'm a very religious individual and I did not find the incorporation of religion to be misinformed in anyway. I think that Ijeoma definitely had some insight in trying to understand how her sexuality fit into the framework of her religion. One character I did not like definitely took the shape and form of her husband. At first I thought he was kind but he ended up representing everything that society tried to push Ijeoma into becoming. Some of his comments blew my mind especially when he questioned why she would want to love a woman when a woman couldn't give her what she wanted. It was awful and I'm pretty sure that some intimate encounters between the two of them would have been considered rape. Some parts of the book were difficult to read but I can understand why they were needed.

Overall I thought that the book was amazing and wonderful testament to the LGBT community in various African countries. I think it definitely is a book that should be read by a wide group of people. The only thing I didn't like was the chronology of the book. Ijeoma narrates the book by telling you the outcome of the event and then going back and giving you details. It took a while for me to get adjusted to that but overall this book was definitely worth the read. If given the opportunity I would also recommend listening to this on audiobook.

Okparanta was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, and relocated to the United States at the age of ten. She received her BS from The Pennsylvania State University, her MA from Rutgers University, and her MFA from the University of Iowa. She was one of Granta's six New Voices for 2012 and her stories have appeared in Granta, The New Yorker, Tin House, Subtropics, and elsewhere.


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