Review: Under the Udala Trees

Philisiwe Zwane

Title: Under the Udala Trees
Author: Chinelo Okparanta
Publisher: Granta
Pages:328
ISBN: 9781847088383
Source: Publisher

Chinelo Okparanta’s Under the Udala trees has been one of the few books that kept me up at night and stayed with me even after I’d read it? This book is set in 1968 during the Biafran war in Nigeria, and is centered around Ijeoma and her coming of age. In the beginning of the book, Ijeoma’s stable childhood is unraveled by her fathers death which leads to having to be separated from her mother.

This separation lead to a chance meeting between her and Amina and their friendship quickly turns into passion. Her relationship with Amina pushes Ijeoma to question her sexuality, her mother’s Bible lessons, Godly love and the truths about heterosexual human beings.

 Throughout the book Ijeoma is ridiculed and judged because of her sexuality and in a quest for acceptance, she ends up getting married. The marriage fails and she returns home. The closing scene was particularly powerful because the very same God that was used to judge her was used to accept her.

…God who created you must have known what He did…

Chinelo Okparanta

Under the udala trees comes at a moment in Nigeria’s history where the then President signed a bill commonly known as “Jail the gays” act which criminalizes same-sex relationships. This book is Okparanta’s ongoing commitment to chronicling the lives of the LGBTQI+ community.
 What I loved about this book is that it brings about the normalcy of homosexuality in Nigeria, and it is a celebration of the revolutionary nature of queer love and the visibility of queer womxn. Not many books have been written on queer womxn and I appreciate Okparanta’s for bringing such a story to life.

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