BOOK: Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

Summary

One day in 1968, at the height of the Biafran civil war, Ijeoma’s father is killed and her world is transformed forever. Separated from her grief-stricken mother, she meets another young lost girl, Amina, and the two become inseparable. Theirs is a relationship that will shake the foundations of Ijeoma’s faith, test her resolve and flood her heart. In this masterful novel of faith, love and redemption, Okparanta takes us from Ijeoma’s childhood in war-torn Biafra, through the perils and pleasures of her blossoming sexuality, her wrong turns, and into the everyday sorrows and joys of marriage and motherhood. As we journey with Ijeoma we are drawn to the question: what is the value of love and what is the cost?

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Under The Udala Trees is about young Ijeoma who loses her father during the Nigerian civil war and goes on to live away from her grieving mother for the remainder of the war. During her stay away, she falls in love with another girl called Amina. When they are discovered, Ijeoma is sent back to her mother and put through rigorous religious studies to show her the “abomination” of her newfound feelings. The book goes on to follow Ijeoma’s life through high school and her first years of adulthood.

In the beginning of the story, the backdrop is the Nigerian civil war. It then goes on to describe the effects of the more recent stringent homophobic laws. Religion is also a large part of the book and is what makes Ijeoma doubt herself. She is taught over and over again that the feelings she has are wrong.

Religion and tradition entwine to form a deeply oppressive environment in which to grow up. Ijeoma is constantly battling against what she feels and what she thinks she should feel. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read showing just how pervasive the effect such a deeply homophobic society has on LGBT people.

I loved the writing – it is restrained, and Ijeoma’s story shines in its stark simplicity. Ijeoma’s story takes the reader from her closeted youth, to the small freedom of an underground gay club and how happy it makes her,  followed by the utter fear of being discovered and killed. My heart broke for Ijeoma and I rooted for her the entire time. The author skilfully weaves Ijeoma’s internal emotions about her heartbreaks with her general musings about her faith.

Ijeoma is an utterly unforgettable heroine and Under The Udala Trees is one of these books that will continue to haunt you long after you turned the last page. Her quest to allow herself to love and to be who she is is stunning.

Ijeoma’s story of self-discovery and acceptance makes for a heart-wrenching and fascinating read. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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Giveaway

You can win a copy of the gorgeous paperback edition of Under The Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta by commenting on the post below and leaving your email address!

This giveaway is UK only and you have until Sunday 16th July to comment.

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Thank you to Granta Books for providing the copy for the giveaway!

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