that you're basically a good girl who loves her parents and you're sent
away to work for another family because your home is in a war zone. Now
imagine that despite your strict religious upbringing and the laws of
your country, you cannot help but fall in love with the most
inappropriate person. For young Ijeoma, that person is Amina, another
Midway between Old Oba-Nnewi Road and New Oba-Nnewi Road, in that general area bound by the village church and the primary school, and where Mmiri John Road drops off only to begin again, stood our house in Ojoto. It was a yellow-painted two-story cement construction built along the dusty brown trails just south of River John, where Papa's mother almost drowned when she was a girl, back when people still washed their clothes on the rocky edges of the river.—Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015, opening paragraph; uncorrected proof)
- Setting: starts in 1968 during the Biafran-Nigerian conflict
- Circumstances: Eleven-year-old Ijeoma is sent away to be safe during wartime, so her mother can prepare a new home for them. While in service to a schoolteacher and his wife, Ijeoma meets and befriends another girl, Amina. When the schoolteacher discovers their friendship has blossomed into love (although he calls their relationship an abomination), the girls are separated. Ijeoma returns to her family, where she's subjected to her mother's intense Bible lessons and instructions on the wrongness of homosexuality. As she matures, Ijeoma becomes secretly involved in the lesbian community, although she succumbs to family and social pressures to be a wife and mother. But how can she thrive or even survive under the lies and stress?
- Characters: Ijeoma (a Christian Igbo) and her parents; Amina (a Muslim Hausa); the schoolteacher and his wife; villagers, neighbors, students, and people in the gay community; Ijeoma's husband and his family
- Genre: historical fiction
- Themes: family, same-sex love, culture clashes, war, family, social expectations, religion, struggling to stay true to oneself
- What I like so far: The plot is beautifully balanced between Ijeoma's personal struggles with self-identity and the wider atmosphere of war and politics. On the one hand, this is a story about Ijeoma's coming of age; on the other, it's an examination of the results of civil war, as one culture clamors for independence from another. I love the descriptions of Nigeria and the bits of African folk tales that are woven into the plot.
- Why you should consider reading: This is an important story, exposing the fear that so much of the LBGTQ community still endures across the globe. Currently in Nigeria, homosexuals can be jailed for up to fourteen years and/or stoned death.