Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta – Book Review


This novel takes place in Nigeria in the beginning, during and after the 1967 uprising of the state of Biafra. While I have knowledge about a lot of unrelated things, one of the many subjects that I know next to nothing about is Nigeria. I must say that while it was never an easy read – uprisings seldom are, it was a wonderful book, and I’m glad that I read it.

The main character, Ijeoma, is an innocent child who has a rather limited understanding of exactly what is taking place. Luckily the area she lives in, has been pretty much left untouched by the civil war. It isn’t until misfortune overtakes the family, and her mother decides to leave her in the care of a friend of her fathers’ that we are shown what has happened to the people of the country. At this teachers’ house, Ijeoma is used as an unpaid servant where she is introduced to her only friend and confidant, Amina, who is also an unpaid servant to the teacher. Their friendship blooms into a relationship which once discovered brings her back into her mother’s life. While her mother, a Christian, tries to prove, through constant reading of the Bible how evil a girl Ijeoma is, I love her reaction.


If you know anything about Nigeria, I would suppose that you know that any form of same-sex relationship can lead to imprisonment and death. This is the story of the early years of homosexual life, coming out of the closet, and the societal reaction to it.


Chinelo Okparanta

I must say that I really enjoyed this book. I could both see and feel Nigerian life in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. I was totally invested in the life of Ijeoma, and felt both her frustration with her constricted life, and her efforts to change that life. I highly recommend this novel.


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