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Under the Udala Trees

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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.

328 pages, Hardcover

First published September 3, 2015

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About the author

Chinelo Okparanta

11 books693 followers
Chinelo 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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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,467 reviews
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
650 reviews825 followers
January 27, 2021
“I suppose it's the way we are, humans that we are. Always finding it easier to make ourselves the victim in someone else's tragedy. Though it is true, too, that sometimes it is hard to know to whom the tragedy really belongs.”

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta review – love and conflict during the Nigerian civil war | Fiction | The Guardian

Wow! Chinelo Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees is amazing! Amid the political upheaval of Nigeria’s civil war and after her father’s death, 11-year old Ijeoma is sent to live with family friends. There she befriends and eventually falls in love with a girl from a different ethnic tribe. In a country with some of the strictest laws against homosexuality, there is virtually no acceptance of such a relationship. When Ijeoma’s relationship is discovered, her mother reclaims her and pressures her to lead a normal life. The biggest part of that normal life is getting married and having children. From her very religious mother’s point of view, that is the only way Ijeoma can be complete. Ijeoma wants both to be accepted in society and to make her mother happy. However, Ijeoma recognizes the high cost of living a life according to other people’s morality.

This is a beautifully written novel which grabbed my attention and never let go! Chinelo Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees is highly recommended!
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,089 reviews7,945 followers
November 3, 2016
4.5 stars This was a nearly perfect novel. It has what I would call a quiet power to it. Okparanta has created something special here, something that's moving and resilient and important. It's the story of conflict and reconciliation, of a nation at war with itself, of a mother and daughter at war with each other, and ultimately of a girl at war with her identity and how she comes to acceptance. It's beautifully written and told, and I can't wait to read more from this author. Only small complaint is I felt the epilogue was unnecessary. Loved how it ended right before that. Otherwise, perfection!
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,844 reviews34.9k followers
August 18, 2015
This debut novel will reach deep into your heart and mind.... a story which stays forever!

Ijeoma is only 11 years old when her father dies.
As a young child, when one parent dies, ( I know this from experience), they often feel as though they've lost both parents.
Everything changes instantly and dramatically. This happened to Ijeoma.
She and her mother loose their living comforts...from their upper class,
( more elite) home to being rather poor. The entire country is hurting as the Civil
War had just broke out in Nigeria.
On top of this, ( more loss...feelings of abandonment), Ijeoma's mother sends her to live
with another couple...( a teacher and his wife). It's suppose to be a short time, while the
mother can figure out her plans - then bring her back home soon..
( this happened to me too... I remember being sent to live in another house for about a half
year)... but for Ijeoma, it was a 2 year separation.

If the entire story was about a young girl coming of age living in a country at war - with
her home life completely broken ...and how she survives ...it could have been enough
for a novel....
This story takes place in a very religious and conservative country.
Add to the challenge that Ijeoma has a lesbian experience and gets caught. She had no acceptance with her country or her mother. It can be dangerously threatening to be a homosexual in the 60's and 70's in Nigeria.

Ijeoma was not an out spoken rebel type....( who would be given her circumstances?), fighting for gay rights...but she did spend a lot of time deeply thinking about God and the bible
in regards to sexuality. She was grappling with why there couldn't be an"Eve and Eve"
in the Bible, with the same reasons there was an Adam and Eve.

We take a journey with Ijeoma into adulthood.

One 'small' wonder....( maybe I'm a naïveté 63 year old), but I was the same age as
Ijeoma in America during the 1960's, as Ijeoma was in Nigeria. I was sooo removed from thoughts of having sex with anyone...male or female, at age 11, 12. or 13. Ok... so, maybe, I'm just naïveté as I say. - but I kept thinking .., " so young?"
Regardless of age,
I sympathized with Ijeoma's......wishing her inner peace...with love and freedom.
It was Ijeoma's faith, that gave her strength, against no agreement.

"Sometimes I sit with my Bible in my hands, and I think to myself that God is nothing but an artist, and the world is this canvas. And I reason that if the old and New Testament are any indication, of change is the fact a major part of His aesthetic, a major part of His vision
for the world. The Bible itself is an endorsement of change".

* It breaks my heart ... to read in the AUTHORS NOTES...that in January, 2014, The president signed a bill criminalizing same-sex relationships, making these offenses punishable up to 14 years in prison.

Hopefully ... this book is planting seeds of Justice around the globe.

Thank You to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, Netgalley, and Chinelo Okparanta
for the opportunity to read this book! This book makes a difference!

Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
740 reviews1,097 followers
March 2, 2020
Under the Udala Trees is a nice enough story about a young lesbian in Nigeria, where homosexuality is illegal. The story follows Ijeoma through her first feelings for another girl when she is a teenager, through her marriage to a man, and finally to accepting her sexuality, albeit not living openly for apparent reasons. I found the writing too flowery for my taste, and there was constant reference to God and the Bible, including many passages of the Bible which I found boring. I guess for people who don't know the Bible very well, it could be helpful to read exactly what's in it, at least what pertains to this story. However, as a former evangelical, fundamentalist Christian who had to memorise entire chapters of the Bible as a kid (you know how religions love to brainwash people, especially young kids), I didn't need to learn about this and was annoyed to find so much religious talk in the book. This is because Ijeoma and her mother are Christian and her mother cannot accept Ijeoma's sexuality because of course it is an "abomination". 

I think I would have enjoyed this more if there wasn't so much religion and God-talk. Not a bad book, just not the best book for me.
Profile Image for ☆Pelumi☆.
259 reviews310 followers
June 22, 2021

“Maybe love was some combination of friendship and infatuation. A deeply felt affection accompanied by a certain sort of awe. And by gratitude. And by a desire for a lifetime of togetherness.”

This is one of those books that I read and I really enjoyed. Not only was it relatable, it was also accurate. Its hard to find really good novels especially debut ones like these with great representation. I'm glad I picked this up!

Set in the civil war times in Nigeria, this book centers around a little girl, Ijeoma trying to discover her sexuality whilst fighting the evils of society, hunger, homophobia and all other vices that come with wars.
My dad use to tell me story of the war and how much suffering it brought and well, this book came very close to meeting the description.
It is heart wrenching and beautifully written.
Ijeoma is just a normal girl, trying to find herself in a place where her existence is deemed a crime. Due to the war and loss of her dad, her mom sells her off to serve as a maid and 11 year old Ijeoma goes to live a life of servitude. When she falls in love with Amina, its the greatest feeling she's ever had but it is short lived as her mom finds out.
Her mom takes her back home so as to put her through as series of spiritual cleansing to 'purify' her and make her straight
A lot of reviews I've seen complained about that aspect, calling all the bible passages used unnecessary and boring. If I'm to be honest, its true! However, I feel what they fail to realise is that Nigeria is a very religious nation and it is not an exaggeration for a parent to make their child read the whole Bible or for them to try to pray away Homosexuality, calling it an evil spirit and what not. I would know, I've been in that position before and its definitely not a fun time.

“Man and wife, the Bible said. It was a nice thought, but only in the limited way that theoretical things often are.”

When she goes back to school, she meets Amina again, but Amina is no longer the girl she loved. She is now a stranger who wants nothing to do with Ijeoma and this breaks her heart. Even more heartbreaking is when Amina marries another man. Amina has moved on and maybe she should to.

“The absence of any kind of communication from her was not at all like an absence. It was instead a presence: of mind-pain, like a thick, rusted arrow shooting straight into my head, poisoning my mind with something like tetanus, causing my thoughts to go haywire, a spasm here, a spasm there.”

We follow Ijeoma as she enters a rather uneventful marriage and finds true love outside her marriage in the person of Ndidi. This doesn't last as well as Ijeoma is forced to marry someone else. She has kids but she isn't happy. She isn't herself at all. Should she choose love or endure the unhappiness of her arranged marriage to Chibundu?
To her its a choice between love and duty?
Life and death?
Happiness or sorrow?

“Let peace be. Let life be.”

I found the read wholesome and touching. I didn't regret it at all and Its certainly for everyone!
The ending was a bit sad and the author's note was a rude awakening, reminding me of the true stand of LGBTQ+ Nigerians and at the moment, there is not true happy ending!

TW: Just wanted to say that there's a war so expect some gore, death/conscious killing of LGBT individuals, depression, malnutrition and rape
Profile Image for Cheryl.
463 reviews581 followers
August 1, 2020
I turned the last pages of this book late at night and dreamt of udalas, sweet and tart.

Speaking of dreams, there are quite a few in this novel, as the main character sometimes wrestles with reality through dreams. You know how it is, when you have so much on your mind, so much to philosophize, but there's no one to truly talk to because your inner life must remain a secret?

I breathed in the scent of her, deeply, as if to take in an excess of it, as if to build a reserve for that one day when she would be gone.

This story starts as a bildungsroman and then expands with plot. Even the child's voice morphs into the woman's as the second half of the book spans a few years. A young girl experiences loss and abandonment during the civil war in Nigeria. She comes of age during a terrible time in her country when people who look like her are being killed in an ethnic war. Soon, she realizes that who she loves could also get her killed.

How does a person view the world, how does she live, if the simple freedoms awarded to everyone else is denied her? Even with all that surrounds her, Ijeoma has hope. Hope for love, hope for happiness, which eludes her, hope for a better relationship with her mother so that she views her outside of the lenses of her Bible and simply sees her, the daughter who is only human, who simply wants the freedom to love.

Papa used to talk a lot about infinity. He used to harp on how there were infinite possibilities for the way anything in life could turn out. Even with a limited number of building blocks, he said, the possibilities were endless.

I first fell in love with Chinelo Okparanta's writing when I came across one of her stories, which I wrote about in this review of Happiness Like Water , one of my favorite short story collections. This novel was a great addition to my reading theme of love in 2020.

In 2014 I watched in horror with the rest of the world as Nigeria instituted some of the most archaic Anti-LGBTQ laws, where "same-sex amorous relationships" were considered an offense and could face 14 years in prison. Organizations who aided members of the LGBTQ community could face prison time also. Our LGBTQIA friends have always endured bias in regions of Africa but to have seen it so blatantly inscribed was devastating. So I enjoyed how Okparanta didn't hold back in this novel. The hate scenes are grim and the love scenes are stark. There is only so much to say without spoiling it so all I'll say is this: for anyone considering reading novels with global impact, add this one to your list.
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,251 reviews49 followers
November 1, 2017
A beautifully crafted tale of forbidden love, mostly set during and immediately after the Biafran war, but inspired by Nigeria's recent decision to outlaw homosexual acts.

Ijeoma is an Igbo girl from a middle class family whose world is shaken when her father is killed by a bomb, and her mother is forced to send her out to be a servant girl while she finds a place to survive. Here she meets Amina, a Hausa orphan, and persuades her employers to take her in. They start a lesbian relationship, but when this is discovered, Ijeoma is sent home. Her mother attempts to reeducate her using Biblical quotations, but is unable to prevent the two girls ending up at the same school, where they drift apart.

Returning to her mother's village, Ijeoma meets another woman Ndidi, but is soon forced to marry her childhood friend Chibundu. The rest of the book follows the story of her unhappy marriage, with a brief postscript set in the present day.

Okparanta is a talented story-teller. The first part of the narrative is interesting in that she reveals a few key events before describing them in detail. Most of the chapters are short and direct, and there are plenty of lighter moments. Nigeria's intolerant religious beliefs form a powerful background, and Ijeoma's own complex relationship with God and religion is explored in some depth.
Profile Image for Monica.
573 reviews609 followers
February 9, 2016
What an amazing book!! Deeply personal and thoughtful!! A beautiful story, beautifully told. I was not expecting to be so captivated. I think what got me was the humanness of it all. The world building was superb. I knew I was reading about another country entirely with different culture etc and yet I connected with Ijeoma. I understood her points of view and shared many of her perceptions. The first half of the book with the religious dogma was interesting to me, but I was completely detached. The moment someone starts to explain their questionable behavior or point of view by telling me what the bible says; it’s just like flipping an off switch. I’m not listening. But Ijeoma comes from a background where the bible gave her family hope. It was the very foundation of their lives. She not only has internal conflicts with biological imperatives, but with the very foundations of what her parents have laid out for her. Interestingly enough, I found commonality in the second half of the book regardless of sexual preference. The desire to carve out a life that is meaningful and comfortable and pleasant. Finding your way through life is difficult on its own, even more so if you are gay and living in a very ignorant and intolerant country. But Ijeoma’s basic struggle was the same as everyone else; finding herself and figuring out a way to carve out a happy life. I have a heterosexual friend right now staring at a marriage to a person that is amiable and kind but there is no love. The hope is for a comfortable life with someone who is acceptable to the family. Love and intimacy are sacrificed to the idea of what is a societal norm. They wish and hope and pray that those things will grow with time. Ijeoma says it herself when she says
“There’s a way in which life takes us along for a ride and we begin to think that our destinies are not in fact up to us.”
One of the most self-destructive, almost universally applied axioms/antidotes/cure all/solutions to life’s issues is the notion of “give it time” or "give it a chance". It wasn’t until Ijeoma gave everything she had to make things work within the conventional norms that her mother finally accepted who Ijeoma was. But there was a tremendous amount of suffering and destruction in a lot of lives before her mother came around. Isn’t that part of what is goes on in everyone’s life at some point? We spend a tremendous amount of effort trying to conform to societal norms often leaving a destructive wake while denying our true selves. Trying to be what someone else expects. It was gratifying that her mother came around in the end. It was gratifying that Ijeoma is living her truth now. She still has to hide herself from society, but at least she doesn’t have to hide from her mother. In spite of her mother’s initial reservations and behavior, she was Ijeoma’s rock in life and her support. I believe that her mother did love her and wanted what’s best for her. She never outright rejected her daughter. That Ijeoma at the end of her marriage went back to her mother’s house and said
“Mama, I can’t, I can’t anymore.”
says this to me. She had a place to go. Her mother didn’t abandon her. I came to love her mother. She was doing the best she knew how to do and in the end she chose her daughter over everything including religious teachings. And through everything, Ijeoma still managed to stay true to herself and to retain her faith. Her mother’s last line says it all
“Ka udo di, ka ndu di.” Let peace be, let life be.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
350 reviews386 followers
June 13, 2017
“With a man, life is difficult. Without a man, life is even more difficult. Take it from me."

Like many artists before her, author Chinelo Okparanta took to her craft as a way to address oppressive governmental policies. In 2014, the year before this book was written Okparanta's native Nigeria passed some of the most stringent laws in the world against homosexuality. Those found to be "guilty" of homosexuality could be sentenced to decades in prison or death by stoning.

Okparata's beautiful and heartbreaking novel tells the story of young Ijeoma who comes of age during Nigeria's bloody and tumultuous civil war. During that period she discovers the nature of her desire and the realization that she is attracted to women, not men. The author does a brillant job of exploring Ijeoma's inner thoughts as she wrestles with her faith, the relationship with her mother, and societal expectations.

4.5 stars
Profile Image for Emily Coffee and Commentary.
272 reviews78 followers
July 18, 2022
A gorgeous, powerful tale of enduring love and courage. This novel is filled with conflicts; between who we are and who we are told we must be, what is written and what is believed, who we love and who we are tied to. Romantic and defiant, this is an essential story, filled with patience, faith, and the will not just to survive, but to bloom into truth and love.
Profile Image for Jill.
1,149 reviews1,586 followers
August 25, 2015
It is impossible for me to review this book without first addressing the “why” of its genesis. Just last year, Nigeria – the birthplace of Chinelo Okparanta – passed one of the world’s most punitive laws against same-sex relationships, including lengthy prison sentences and in the northern states, death by stoning. As someone who strongly believes that healthy and reciprocal love between two people – regardless of gender – is always a good thing, I can’t help but applaud this young author for providing a voice for so many in Nigeria who are forced to deny their authentic selves.

That being said, I typically default in reacting to a book not to its worthy themes, but how it succeeds in advancing those themes. And here, I must admit to some disappointment.

Having read Happiness Like Water, I know what heights Chinelo Okparanta is capable of reaching. In that collection, she writes devastatingly about women and children seeking shelter from abusive husbands, gay lovers who must forego love because one is acquiescing to an arranged marriage, and other traumas. It was – and remains – a fine debut.

In Under the Udala Trees, Ms. Okparanta states that her novel is attempting to “give Nigeria’s marginalized LGBTQ citizens a more powerful voice, and a place in our nation’s history.” The book is, at its core, a coming-of-age story in which the narrator --Ijeoma – is sent to live with friends of the family during wartime. Her sexual and emotional awakening at the hands of another displaced girl, Amina, sets in motion a long struggle for self-acceptance.

Ms. Okparanta writes beautifully, lucidly, and at times, devastatingly; at no point did I want to abandon the book. In fact, once I started reading, I eagerly turned pages. But I couldn’t help but feel as if she were leading me to conclusions, rather than let me reach them on my own. Nigeria is the second-most religious nation in the world; the author writes, “It’s the Church that has interpreted God’s words to its own benefit…My point is that business is the reason for things like doctrines. Business is the reason for words like ‘abomination’.”

No argument there. But somehow, I wanted Ms. Okparanta to go further than what has now become the sad givens: the hypocrisy and perniciousness of religion, the valuing of male children above female children, the forcing of loving people to deny their own realities in order to conform and to enter into false marriages. In ways, I felt this novel could easily be classified as young-adult fiction (and, for the record, there’s nothing wrong with that. My belief is that To Kill A Mockingbird, one of the classics of American fiction, is also YA). For me – and this is entirely subjective – I wanted more thematic surprises.
Profile Image for Starlah.
393 reviews1,599 followers
February 18, 2021
During the start of Nigeria's civil war and after her father's death, 11-year old Ijeoma is sent to live with family friends. There she befriends and eventually falls in love with a girl. In a country with some of the strictest laws against homosexuality, there is no acceptance of their relationship. When their relationship is discovered, Ijeoma's mother takes her away from the family friends and pushes her towards a "normal" life. The biggest part of that - marrying a man and having children.

Ijeoma wants to be accepted in her society and wants to please her mother, but she cannot deny the way she feels and who she is. And throughout the story, we see the cost of living a life according to others' agendas and morality.

This story was so beautifully written and so well-paced, I flew through it. It has a quiet power to it in how we are following an individual through her life that is, in many ways, like many other lives. It is a story of a nation at war with itself, of a mother and daughter at war with each other, and more than anything, of a girl as war with her own identity and how she wants to live her life. Absolutely beautiful.
Profile Image for Adam Dalva.
Author 7 books1,479 followers
April 12, 2017
Addictive, quick novel that takes on the horrendous homophobic conditions in Nigeria with a decades-spanning narrative. Okparanta is a writer of great restraint, comfortable with quick, punchy scenes and large time jumps, and her plot-work is excellent. You find yourself caring about the lead, her two forbidden affairs with men, and her marriage to a man who she can not possibly love. The husband is a particularly well-mapped character - in a different book, in a different story, his narrative would be a happy one, and despite his cruelties, the book takes care to treat him three-dimensionally. This makes his atrocities all the more devastating.

I do think the novel started going way too fast around the 1/3rd mark: scenes became things we were told; the narrative exclusively focused on queer relationships and didn't give us any aspect of Ijeoma's life; the first relationship, with Amina, never quite figures out how to get back into the novel and it makes the second relationship less interesting in contrast. This is only a theory, but I have the suspicion that novels written in workshops tend to front-load their scene work and then rush through their conclusions. Without the lyricism and suspense of the early part of the book, I had to fight the urge to read for plot alone.
Profile Image for Lark Benobi.
Author 1 book1,637 followers
January 30, 2019
Under the Udala Trees is restrained compared with almost any other novel I've ever read about a child growing up in time of war. There are terrible things happening throughout the novel, but somewhat obliquely. After reading many memoirs and novels that have no such restraint I kept being surprised when this main character was never raped or maimed or burned at the stake, all things that the author could have chosen to have happen to her protagonist.

The language here is simple and straightforward and feels like appropriate language for this character, what she might sound like while telling her own first person story--she doesn't speak like a writer, she speaks like a person. So she will say things like "you could hear a pin drop" and you might say it's cliche' writing or you might say it's a natural speaking voice shining out of the story itself. The way these things feel to you will have a lot of influence on whether you enjoy the novel or not.
Profile Image for Jane.
527 reviews49 followers
December 6, 2015
This book was amazing and EVERYONE should read it!

I had Americanah-like chills while reading this. It dealt with so many serious feminist issues, particularly the role of religion and the condemnation of homosexuality. Ijeoma's thoughts and opinions on religion have been buzzing around my own mind lately so it was especially cathartic to read. There's nothing better than an incredibly well-written book that tackles very serious human issues.

I will definitely be reading anything and everything else by this author.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,232 reviews998 followers
October 2, 2015
I was inspired to pick this up by the blurb claiming that it was "inspired by Nigeria's folktales." Well, that's not quite true. Certainly, the characters are all Nigerian, and there are a few traditional tales told, over the course of the book - but the story itself is clearly based on true events, not on folktales.

I was actually nearly convinced that this was a memoir, it rings so true. It's not, but the author has stated that some details are based on her mother's experiences in Nigeria. It feels like a family story.

I'd be surprised if no one else has yet described the book as the "Oranges are Not the Only Fruit" for Nigeria. Like that book, it's a coming-of-age story; a personal, painful look at what it is like to first fall in love with another woman, in an environment where lesbians are treated harshly (in this book, even killed) and denounced by so-called Christianity.

The book is written in a very accessible, deceptively simple style. it's emotionally moving - but you'll also come away from the book feeling like you've truly gained an insight as to what it was like to live in 1960-1970's Nigeria.

Many thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own.
Profile Image for Beverly.
1,612 reviews337 followers
September 23, 2015
Poignant and emotionally rich this story captured my attention and heart in many unexpected ways. The author’s storytelling abilities are showcased as she seamlessly weaves together the coming-of-age stories of Nigeria and the main character, Ijeoma. This technique effectively put me into a specific time and place and yet is universally appealing. Ijeoma’s young world is shattered as the civil war kills her father, and her mother sends her away to a safer place. In this new place Ijeoma, an Igbo and Amina, a Hausa, find comfort in their loving each other until caught and Ijeoma is reunited with her mother. Veiled bible lessons become the root of discomfort and confusion as Ijeoma tries to understand her cultural and societal expectations. When meeting Amina again in school their attraction solidifies until Amina marries. As Ijeoma meets another woman, Ndidi she learns the horrific consequences of same-sex relationships and eventually gives in to societal (and her mother’s) pressure marrying a loving understanding man. Ijeoma struggles from the beginning to present the facade of being a wife and to find some degree of happiness and satisfaction until she reaches a point where this is no longer an option to her. The beautiful honest language handles the sensitive subjects with grace, bringing the inner thoughts of the characters to light in a manner that will make readers ache in their struggles.
I had read Okparanta’s short story collection, Happiness, Like Water, I was impressed with the fluidity of her writing and the how profound the stories were and knew that I would enjoy her future work. Tragic, moving, and definitely unforgettable, this is a novel to savor as it will linger in your thoughts after you turn the last page.
Profile Image for BookOfCinz.
1,376 reviews2,165 followers
May 16, 2021
Updated May 2021

Legend has it that sprit children, tired of floating aimlessly between the world of the living and that of the dead, take to gather above udala trees.

This is my second time reading this book and I cannot believe I forgot such a beautifully, well written story. Under The Udala Trees opens with Nigeria going to war, we meet Ijeoma who is coming of age when her nation is going through a lot. When the civil war breaks out she loses her father and her mother sends her away to live with a distant friend. It is while living away that Ijeoma develops feelings for her friend, they are caught, shamed and she gets sends back to her mother.

Ijeoma and her mom spend hours going through the Bible on why who she is, is wrong. She tries to be “better” for her mother but cannot seem to shake the feelings. She ends up marrying a childhood friend, but is that enough?

Truly well crafted story about love, identity and finding one’s true self. I loved how the author helped us journey with Ijeoma as she explored the world around her. I loved the historical look into Nigeria at the time, that for me was well done and I felt like I was getting a history lesson. This is definitely a book worth picking up.

I suppose it’s the way we are, humans that we are. Always finding it easier to make ourselves the victim in someone else’s tragedy. Though it is true, too, that sometimes it is hard to know to whom the tragedy really belongs.

October 2015
I am two ways about this book, on one hand, I am happy exists and it tackles a relevant topic and it shows an entirely different perspective about what is like being a lesbian in Nigeria.
On the other hand, while the book is well written, I felt as if there was something missing from the overall picture. Reading the review, I realized it might have been the lack of character development. Yes the message was well presented but the characters especially Chibundu and Ndidi whose character kinda of flipped flopped all over the place.
Aside from that, the book was an interesting read. Surely gives an interesting view of life in Nigeria.
Profile Image for Henrietta.
88 reviews22 followers
July 1, 2022
“Let peace be. Let life be”

🌴Themes: homosexuality, culture, civil war, friendship, marriage, religion, fanaticism, love.

🌴I enjoyed reading this book and even though it took more time than usual it held my interest every time I picked it up to continue where I left off.

🌴For one I liked the character of Ijeoma
I liked how she was curious and how her mind wondered about things even when she’s praying ; “What kinds of things occupied Him up there in heaven and kept Him from answering our prayers? He probably didn’t sleep or eat, so what, then? What kinds of things were more important to Him than us, His very own children?”

🌴Her mother frustrated me but I understand that she’s a mother in a time that made her think she needed to exorcise her daughter of an evil spirit because she loved a girl.
I did not like how she thought that a man is what a woman needs to be validated
“With a man, life is difficult. Without a man, life is even more difficult. Take it from me.”

🌴But in the end her love for her daughter triumphed and that was really satisfying for me “God, who created you, must have known what He did. Enough is enough.”

I 🌴was sad about how gays were being hunted and beaten to death or burnt. That is no way to treat anyone.

🌴I wondered what became of Amina. And I really did think that we should have been told more about her marriage.

“All the things the boy will do, I promise to do better.
In all the ways he can love you, I promise to love you better.”

🌴And the love affair between Ijeoma and Ndidi was heady for me. I did like how things turned out for two of them.

🌴I did not like Chibundu he represented the entitlement of some husbands. It was really annoying how he thought Ijeoma owed him a son and he forced himself on her despite knowing that she was not ready and wasn’t going to be ready for the kind of marriage they had. What was wrong with having just a daughter anyway? I was glad Ijeoma took a firm decision in the end.

🌴I liked that the author spoke about Chidinma. She grew to be a wise young lady and was very accepting of her mother and her mother’s lover.

Read this book!
Profile Image for jo.
613 reviews479 followers
August 4, 2017
i am not sure what the biafra war is doing in this book.
i am not sure what the death of a beloved parent who can no longer fight for survival is doing in this book.
i am not sure what a mother's breakdown and subsequent abandonment are doing in this book.
i am not sure what a child's servitude is doing in this book.

once you are done, once you get to the end, this feels very much like a book about being a young gay girl and a gay woman, but there are all these other things too. they are woven together in a lovely and flowing narrative that feels entirely unforced. it feels easy, as if the composing of it were the most natural thing in the world. this makes it a fast read. this is a book one reads fast.

but then you wander what all those things are doing in the story. you also notice how much temporal back and forth there is.

life is not linear. gayness is not its own story. gayness happens in context. a dead father. an abandoning then punishing mother. servitude. schooling.

this is what i got out of this book beside the joy i took from just reading it:

if you are gay in a gay-hating place you will internalize the hatred and feel abominable. your mom, who loves you so much, will turn against you and try to de-gaify you. you will marry a man, have his children, and be raped night after night by someone you don't desire. you will feel like sex is owed to him. you will feel like your desires must be eradicated. you will despair. you will pray. you will cry. you will become numb to your own child.

so many of ijeoma's experiences resonated with me, even though there are differences between our lives. what resonated was the intolerable horror of being stuck. also, the intolerable horror of seeing one's beloved parent turn against one.

thank you chinelo okparanta for making this story end well. i could not have borne it had it ended in misery.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Fariha.
88 reviews24 followers
June 9, 2022
I think I wanted to love this book because of the premise and the setting of it, but turns out, I only liked it – which is fair enough.

The book is set in Nigeria during the Biafran war where Ijeoma, a 11-year-old girl lives with her loving family. The war turns her world upside down, where eventually her path crosses with Amina, which leads to the start of her journey (or shall I say struggle) to understand her own sexuality through embracing a girl’s love. The plot moves through her childhood to adolescence and adulthood where Ijeoma fights many internal battles weighed down by traditional societal values where love between women is vilified, as well as the threat of purgatory through religious/biblical teaching – and at the heart of it all, her mother’s influence and pressure to rid Ijeoma from the devil/evil and for her to do what is “normal” in society, i.e. to marry a man.

All of this is great, but what lacked for me is the author’s attempt of inclusion of everything! As in, did this story really need to be set during the Biafran war? I personally found this to be a huge distraction from the central theme of the story, which is about the sexual awakening of a young woman and her struggle to embrace it or repress it. My second issue was that the love/relation between Ijeoma and Amina was entirely lost on me, no build up there to lead me to feel how the two felt in love. And on this, there was the issue of different ethnicities, Ijeoma being an Igbo girl and Amina, a Hausa girl – which is an important theme to explore but didn’t feel it went far enough for me.

Oh, and on Ijeoma’s days of Bible reading – I could appreciate why the author noted so many of the passages and could see her analysis on the religious malevolence and often hypocrisy when it came to the treatment of women, but perhaps I was not in the right mood for such thorough biblical analysis that I skimmed through a lot of this involuntarily!

Although the character building for the women did not meet my expectations, I thought the development of the male character was done very well. The later chapters of the book expressed other important issues (such as prioritising a boy child over a girl child) much better, but I felt I lacked an emotional connection with the main characters for the most part.
Profile Image for Alma Alma.
78 reviews
July 9, 2017
I think that the trouble with many of the comments about this book are less about the actual book itself and more with the idea of it and what it 'represents'. Firstly, I think it's unfair for Nigerian authors to be constantly likened to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Because it homogenizes their personal stories and distinct styles of writing. Before Under the Udala Trees I read The Fishermen which was also deeply moving and lyrical. But I hated when it was likened to Chimamanda's work as it seems to state that there can be no differentiation between Nigerian authors, that any story about Nigeria by Nigerians is Adichie or perhaps if criticised by more senior critics is similar to Achebe. Moreover, the idea of it pandering to fit into this prescribed category of fiction about gay rights is an oversimplification to me. The problem I have with this distinction is it does exactly what those who are different seem to try to illuminate: just because you are different does not mean you aren't 'normal'. To me, the novel was a heartbreaking affirmation on the necessity of love as a right. On the incapability of being able to control who you love, on the absurdity of trying to force any kind of love that is not organic. This is what I think should be what is underlined the most about Okpranta's novel, not that it is a 'gay novel' or a 'Nigerian war novel' or a 'Chimamanda-esque novel' but that it is unique in its own right in terms of lyricism, in terms of imagery, in terms of style but also in terms of theme. The ongoing theme of emptiness, hollowness, self-deprecation when one does not fit into the accepted format was staggering. The epilogue allowed for a solution, for that final sigh of self-acceptance, maternal acceptance and the gentle allowance of love. This was what I found to be most gratifying about the novel. I do not mean to say that gay rights are anything but important but what I think is very important is not to simplify things. To say that this is merely about gay rights is to do a disservice to the nuances of the story, is to do the thing that it seems the author least wants us to do which is to put it into a clearly marked box about one thing when it is bigger than that, when it - to me - so clearly seems to be about the inescapability of love despite societal differences.
I do also have criticisms. I thought that the backdrop of the Nigerian war acted as a distraction to the main story. I say this because , ironically, it seemed to serve as an allegory to Amina and Ijeoma's love for each other. To me it seemed unnecessary and slightly fabricated that this Hausa girl popped up, said no words to Ijeoma, was accepted by the grammar school teacher and his wife and that this fully-fledged relationship occured between two pre-teen girls. I felt that if the author wanted to use tribalism as an extended metaphor for an illicit relationship then their meeting should have been more meticulously planned and that the relationship between the two girls was too coincidentally microcosmic of the Nigerian war between Hausa and Igbo tribes. I also found that them going to the same school was far fetched. I thought that the similarities between Ndidi and Amina were also unnecessary. Although, I do have to say that the relationship between Ndidi and Ijeoma seemed much more plausible and organic to me. I loved the relationship between Ijeoma and her mother. I thought it was perfectly layered and constructed in a tender and tangible way. To be honest, I was not entirely captivated in terms of the storyline because of previously mentioned points but I was hooked by the lyricism of the novel, I loved the descriptions and imagery. I loved Okpranta's writing. I loved the gentle affirmation that love is not a luxury but is a right and it truly made me passionate about it being a right for everyone. Also chapter 59 is one of the most continuously perfect pieces of prose that I have come across in one go. Loved it and I am so glad I read it. Thank you C.O
Profile Image for Missy J.
559 reviews81 followers
February 9, 2022

For several months I was really looking forward to this book, but ultimately, I'm afraid to say it was disappointing. This novel tackles a big issue - how homosexuality is not tolerated in Nigerian society and that gays and lesbians live in fear of being killed because of their sexual orientation. Unfortunately, the characters in this novel were so flat and the execution of the story line quite sloppy. Characters were thrown into the story when they had a purpose and when that purpose was served, they were pulled out and disappeared just liked that. We spent so much time in the protagonist's mind and yet we never get her innermost thoughts about how she processed her father's death and how she felt marrying a man she didn't love. The protagonist underwent so much trauma but we only see her obsessing over her love interests and how her mother pesters her with bible verses and stereotypical things like pressuring her to get married. Overall, it was underwhelming.

"What can we do? There's not much any one person can do. And to worry of it would be like pouring water over stone. The stone just gets wet. Eventually it dries. But nothing changes."
Profile Image for Bill Muganda.
351 reviews226 followers
October 31, 2020
So grateful that books that touch on this sensitive subject (especially in the African continent) bring forth characters that are rarely seen in most mediums. The main voice Ijeoma comes to terms with her sexuality amidst the 1968 Biafran civil war and the external vs internal conflict carries weight and shapes her adulthood choices. It paints the atmosphere beautifully and the characters grew organically but it was fine for me, something was missing for me, I appreciated it for what it was and I would definitely recommend you check it out.
Profile Image for Robert.
1,952 reviews187 followers
November 1, 2017
A great coming of age novel, which takes place during the biafran war. In a word: poignant.


The reason why this review is so brief is because it was written on my mobile, on a boat with limited bandwidth.

Profile Image for Ace.
430 reviews23 followers
August 4, 2017
Beautifully written and narrated love story. More thoughts when I stop crying...
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,855 reviews1,884 followers
June 9, 2021
Real Rating: 4.5* of five, rounded down because been there, done that

JUNE 2021 NEWS! $2.99 on Kindle!


My Review
: First, read this:
It was 1967 when the war barged in and installed itself all over the place.
Maybe love was some combination of friendship and infatuation. A deeply felt affection accompanied by a certain sort of awe. And by gratitude. And by a desire for a lifetime of togetherness.
Also, what if Adam and Ever were merely symbols of companionship? And Eve, different from him, woman instead of man, was simply a tool by which God noted that companionship was something you got from a person outside yourself? What if that's all it was? And why not?

Why not indeed...perhaps the most trenchant read of 2021, this one. Nigeria's "cracked down" on Twitter for disrespecting its dictator's trumpian "right" to spread lies with impunity; the plight of my QUILTBAG brothers and sisters is not getting one tiny smidge easier or safer there; and this is the story of two girls, too young by US standards to know anything about sex or sexuality, who fall deeply in love and desire a lifetime of companionship together. It's appalling to many that girls of twelve are having sex, still less with each other. I shake my head when I see the well-intentioned clucking and condemnation. You were thinking about sex at twelve, too, and denying it merely makes you a liar. The war-torn world these children live in merely makes knowledge of the subject fortunate if it's only theoretical and not experiential.

After the Biafran civil war opens up the ghastly wounds inflicted on the several pre-colonial states that now make up Nigeria, Ijeoma has every right to be a bit bemused that her mama is more focused on her daughter's sexuality to the exclusion of all else:
“You'll marry your studies? Marry your books? You already have one degree but you want another. You'll marry your degrees?”
And now she began muttering to herself. "God , who created you, must have known what He did."
After a moment I realized that I did know why. The reason was suddenly obvious to me.

I said, “Actually, Mama, yes, I do see why. The men offered up the women because they were cowards and the worst kind of men possible. What kind of men offer up their daughters and wives to be raped in place of themselves?”

Mama stared wide-eyed at me, then, very calmly, she said, “Ijeoma, you’re missing the point.”

“What point?”

“Don’t you see? If the men had offered themselves, it would have been an abomination. They offered up the girls so that things would be as God intended: man and woman instead of man and man. Do you see now?”

A headache was rising in my temples. My heart was racing from bewilderment at what Mama was saying. It was the same thing she had said with the story of Lot. It was as if she were obsessed with this issue of abomination. How could she really believe that that was the lesson to be taken out of this horrible story? What about all the violence and all the rape? Surely she realized that the story was even more complex than just violence and rape. To me, the story didn’t make sense.

There is no hope for someone who thinks their god is so vile and lost to morality that rape of any kind is acceptable; that sex is sinful when it isn't {pick their preferred act}; that religion is anything other than a horrible, cruel con game:
Man and wife, the Bible said. It was a nice thought, but only in the limited way that theoretical things often are.
There are no miracles these days. Manna will not fall from the sky. Bombs, yes, enough to pierce our hearts, but manna, no.
I wondered about the Bible as a whole. Maybe the entire thing was just a history of a certain culture, specific to that particular time and place, which made it hard for us now to understand, and which maybe even made it not applicable for us today. Like Exodus. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk. Deuteronomy said it too. But what did it mean? What did it mean back then? Was the boiling of the young goat in its mother’s milk a metaphor for insensitivity, for coldness of heart? Or did it refer to some ancient ritual that nobody performed anymore? But still, there it was in the Bible, open to whatever meaning people decided to give to it.

Once education opens a person's eyes...

All in all, a read of great and timely importance. The plight of the young women is only the beginning of the story we're told, however, so don't think this is a YA navel-gazer. This is both a strength...I don't want to spend an entire book trapped with a teenager or a tween...and a weakness, because the story veers into some well-trodden paths about man = abusive asshole and woman = patient sufferer that I find very insulting to both men and women. Even though Ijeoma does not present herself as a *willing* victim, she does say, “I had become a little like a coffin: I felt a hollowness in me and a rattling at my seams,” and “Suddenly she could see her future in the relationship: a lifetime of feeling like an afterthought.” It isn't as though no one's ever said that before, and honestly if it had been a man saying it I'd've been only a scoche more interested.

That said, though, there's a reason I've given the read four stars out of five. It is a tremendously involving tale, though I frankly don't see how it's related to any folktales...not that I'd know this from having encountered Igbo folktales but rather from the relentless quotidian nature of the story. I was not as fully engaged in the story after Amina disappears from it. But I was always keenly aware of the need for this story, these women's story, to be in the world. I hope you're even now clicking on the non-affiliate Amazon link to get the $2.99 Kindle edition and spend a luxurious weekend's afternoon enjoying it.
Profile Image for Bookishrealm.
1,776 reviews4,472 followers
February 8, 2018
Update 2/8/18: Here's my full review! http://www.bookishrealmreviews.com/20...

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. I have a full review written. I'll add it once it goes live on my blog.
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