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Under the Udala Trees

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  7,785 ratings  ·  1,087 reviews
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
Hardcover, 328 pages
Published September 22nd 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published September 3rd 2015)
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Eric Mueller I love the ending! I think the dreams in the epilogue tell more about the narrator than more fighting with Chubundu could ever have told. Ending the s…moreI love the ending! I think the dreams in the epilogue tell more about the narrator than more fighting with Chubundu could ever have told. Ending the story where she did rejects Western forms of storytelling, queers the narrative. It shows that the writer is not willing to cater to the reader. She wants to tell this story her way. (less)
Ellen It does involve codeswitching from English to Igbo (I think) to pidgin. From p31: "Before returning to the gate, she said, in pidgin this time 'Na who…moreIt does involve codeswitching from English to Igbo (I think) to pidgin. From p31: "Before returning to the gate, she said, in pidgin this time 'Na who even tell you say I get wata.'"

Other authors that codeswitch and/or have characters that do: Junot Diaz, Chimamanda Adichie, Zadie Smith, Uwem Akpan, Oscar Hijuelos, Shulem Deen (less)

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really liked it Average rating 4.00  · 
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 ·  7,785 ratings  ·  1,087 reviews

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Nov 02, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, black-authors
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 complai ...more
Elyse  Walters
Aug 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
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 ha
J.L.   Sutton
Jul 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Mar 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Recommended to Jenna by: Lisa
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 ...more
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. ...more
Aug 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
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 wh
Oct 31, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2017, modern-lit
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
Jun 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
“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 h
Aug 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
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 pr ...more
Adam Dalva
Apr 12, 2017 rated it liked it
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 w ...more
lark benobi
Nov 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
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 straightforwa
Sep 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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 el
Althea Ann
Apr 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Sep 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: africa, lesbian, queer, audio
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Emer (A Little Haze)
"If you set off on a witch-hunt, you will find a witch.
When you find her, she will be dressed like any other person. But to you, her skin will glow in stripes of white and black. You will see her broom, and you will hear her witch-cry, and you will feel the effects of her spells on you.
No matter how unlike a witch she is, there she will be, a witch, before your eyes."

Beautifully heartfelt and poignant story about a young girl growing up in Nigeria and repercussions of what happens when she f
Oct 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I was in a funk when I picked up this book. I am very particular with what I read and I could not find something to read where I felt invested. This book changed that, because it is the type of book that stays with you for a long time. It is the type of book that begs to be read twice, the type of book you tell your friends about. It is beautiful in language and the sentences read like music lyrics.

A must read. I heard in an interview that she has received threats due to the subject of the book
Nov 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

Mar 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Beautifully written and narrated love story. More thoughts when I stop crying...
Bill Khaemba
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 ...more
Nov 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
[3.5] Under the Udala Trees is a coming of age story about a girl/woman who is struggling to be herself in a virulently homophobic Nigeria - from the late 60s to present. Much of the novel consists of pages of Ijeoma's numbing routine, but there are enough moving and eye opening moments to make this well worth reading. ...more
Jun 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: africa, 2019
In case you haven’t read Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie, and why haven’t you, that book is amazing, but don’t worry! I will tell you all about the Biafran War in five seconds. In the late 60s the Igbo people secede from Nigeria. Genocide follows: the Yoruba people, heavily abetted by the British, surround the new Biafran state and starve millions of its residents to death.

Under the Udala Trees begins right in the middle of it, as our hero Ijeoma’s father commits suicide by sitting s
Yannick Serres
Jul 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book will get you through a flow of emotions.

Story of a young Nigerian girl living with the fact that she has to marry a man she doesn’t love, because it’s not right to be with a woman. Oppressed by her mother and the bible to not make another mistake regarding the person she makes love with, Ijeoma will be ‘forced’ to marry a young man and to make kids for him. She leaves two women she loved for something that is supposed to be the right thing to do.

The story seems so real and you can feel
Paul Fulcher
Apr 17, 2017 rated it liked it
By 1968, Nigeria was already winning and everything had already changed.

But there were to be more changes.

There is no way to tell the story of what happened with Amina without first telling the story of Mama's sending me off. Likewise there is no way to tell the story of Mama's sending me off without also telling of Papa's refusal to go to the bunker. Without his refusal, the sending away might never have occurred, and of the sending away had not occurred, them I might never have met Amina.

Dec 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
"Sometimes a decision comes upon us in that way - in a series of dreams, in a series of small epiphanies."

In a quote on the back cover of this book, Helon Habila says "Under the Udala Trees has all of the ingredients of a great novel: set against the backdrop of war, it tells a story of loss, forbidden love, and one woman's fight against tradition... This is a brave and timely achievement."

This statement is, without a doubt, wholeheartedly true. My only criticism is that these ingredients don't
Missy J

For several months already 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
Jun 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
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.

Alice  Heiserman
Sep 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is the story of lesbian love in Nigeria but it is so much more. It evokes the folktales and the contrast between a Christian upbringing and the way of the heart in a young woman wh is forced to hide her love and lover due to the constraints of her family and society--including different ethnic tribes. The writing is exquisite and evocative. The style does not bog down in the rich descriptions of the country or the characters but pulls the reader along rooting for the main character, first w ...more
Jessica Woodbury
This is a beautiful book and an important one. There is this idea I keep encountering among straight people that queer people have no more problems or complications in their lives. The whole world is still a dangerous place for queer people and this book is a good reminder, particularly its brutal reminder of Nigeria's current anti-gay laws.

This is a beautiful story but a hard one to read. If you are weary of books about queer suffering, you may want to wait until you feel you can manage it. Th
Aug 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Received as an ARC from the publisher.
Beautiful, but heart wrenching. Couldn't put this book down after the first half.
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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. ...more

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