Book Review | Under the Udala Trees, by Chinelo Okparanta

book reviews


Under the Udala Trees coverUnder the Udala Trees | Chinelo Okparanta | 336 pages | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | Goodreads | Amazon

In her striking novel Under the Udala Trees, Chinelo Okparanta details the development of a young lesbian in 1960’s Nigeria. Ijeoma is a young girl when she begins to understand her sexuality, falling in love with a close friend. She’s barely older when she and Amina are caught embracing, after which she is sent to complete intensive bible study with her mother. “Nwoke na nwunye. Adam na Eve. Man and wife,” her mother repeats in their daily sessions. Ijeoma’s feelings remain unchanged, instead forcing her to learn how to adapt to her mother impassioned pleas. The expectation, Ijeoma knows, is for her to finish school, find a husband, and have children. Even the udala tree itself is a symbol of feminine fertility. 

Under the Udala Trees is an exploratory look at how people live a forbidden truth under watchful eyes. It humanizes the millions of people around the world in Nigeria, Uganda, Jamaica, and beyond (Russia, South Africa– the list is far too long) who recognize that their identity earns them the likelihood of being served jail time, burned alive, or “correctively” raped.

Set against the backdrop of the Biafran war in the 1960s, Ijeoma’s romance is punctuated by air strikes, mass migration and other markers of political upending. Thus, Under the Udala Trees is a smartly written historical fiction blended with romance and social commentary.

There’s been much talk on social media these past few day about what it means to be a “fearless” writer. I posit that fearless writing involves doing so despite the knowledge that people in your country of origin will reject each and every word. That they rejected them before the pen ever met the paper. However, as Okparanta says, “maybe with time they will acknowledge to themselves that I am just doing something that is humanistic.”

Have you read Under the Udala Trees? What were your impressions of the book, and to what extent did it strike a chord within you? Do you have any other LGBTQIA+ recommendations that take place outside the USA? Drop them in the comments!

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18 Comments

  1. […] Under the Udala Trees, by Chinelo Okparanta: I highly recommend this book to people interested in books about the LGBTQ community in less conventional cultural settings. […]

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  2. […] the Udala Trees, by Chinelo Okparanta: I reviewed this book recently– here’s a link— and I absolutely loved it. I’m a sucker for books set against the backdrop of war or […]

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  3. This has been sitting on my bookshelf for a while, hopefully i’ll get to it in 2017. Her short stories collection (pub 2013) deals with lgbtq issues as well. ‘Happiness, Like Water’ – I reviewed back in 2014 lol

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    1. Well then. I guess I know what I should read next. Thanks for the rec!

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  4. Vijayalakshmi Harish

    I first heard of this from Naz and will surely be reading it. Just wondering if it is too heartbreaking.

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    1. No! It resolves itself well even though its a tough read at times

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Vijayalakshmi Harish

        Hmmm…that’s nice to know 😊 Hope to be able to read it soon. My TBR is looking increasingly impossible.

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  5. Oh my God, this sounds heartbreaking. I need it.

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    1. Yes you do! It also isn’t awful in the end so that makes it better

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Purchased! Can’t wait to see your next review!

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  6. This is on the list and it sounds amazing. I hope to get to it before the year’s out. Thanks for reviewing it!

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    1. It was really good. Get to it sooner rather than later!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh oh I actually just read a book with LGBT themes set in India and I thought it was awfully good. If you want a recommendation! It was Manil Suri’s The City of Devi. Gosh I liked it very much.

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    1. That sounds like something I’d love reading!

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  8. After seeing this one on the Lambda awards list, I was super excited to pick it up. It hasn’t quite made it to the top of my TBR pile yet, but I think it’s high on the list!

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  9. Love the format, and what you have to say about this book. I’ll certainly give it a read. Looking forward to more of your stuff.

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    1. Glad you liked it! Thanks so much for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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