06 October 2015

Today's Read: Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo OkparantaImagine 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 displaced girl.

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)

Quick Facts
  • 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.


heather 10/6/15, 6:38 AM  

This sounds really interesting. I read a book with similar themes recently but it was set in Iran. It was called If You Could Be Mine.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea 10/6/15, 7:04 AM  

Yes, I'd read more and actually have this one my list of November possibilities. Hope u like it.

JoAnn 10/6/15, 7:50 AM  

This is the first I've heard of this book... it sounds interesting!

Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) 10/6/15, 7:50 AM  

I wasn't really grabbed by the intro, but I've been hearing about about it and love the premise and have it on my radar to get to before the end of the year if people seem to love it.

Greg 10/6/15, 8:11 AM  

Hmm, sounds very thought provoking.

rhapsodyinbooks 10/6/15, 8:25 AM  

Sounds like a very important story worth reading!

Anonymous,  10/6/15, 8:29 AM  

I like the writing here. Story sounds interesting, too. Here's my teaser: http://wp.me/p4DMf0-X7

Laurel-Rain Snow 10/6/15, 10:09 AM  

Oh, wow, I cringe when I think of how that mother is treating the girl after she is sent home.

Then having to try to live a life that is contrary to what she wants...that is horrible.

Thanks for sharing...I love this kind of story, as my emotions are aroused and I FEEL everything with the characters.

Thanks for sharing...and here's mine: “THE LAKE HOUSE”

Unknown 10/6/15, 10:57 AM  

This is such an interesting topic and I've heard lots of great things about this one; thanks for sharing all of this background info, Beth!

bermudaonion 10/6/15, 11:16 AM  

This sounds like the kind of book I love!

Buried In Print 10/6/15, 11:20 AM  

It still strikes me as odd to see a novel set in that period described as historical; I guess one must accept that, as one ages, the question of "historical" shifts right along with your birthdate! This is a period of time in which I am quite interested and I love the parallel that must emerge with that setting, in terms of the character's struggle for independence and freedom of expression. I'll keep an eye out for this one!

Literary Feline 10/6/15, 12:48 PM  

I have a copy of this one to read and am really looking forward to. You've renewed my eagerness to read it.

Margot 10/6/15, 1:15 PM  

The first paragraph didn't grab me, but your synopsis did. I will check this one out.

Unknown 10/6/15, 1:43 PM  

Sounds interesting but not my type of book. Hope you enjoyed it though

Kathy Martin 10/6/15, 2:21 PM  

This isn't something that I would necessarily pick up. I hope you are enjoying it. This week the teaser on my adult blog comes from Thirty and a Half Excuses by Denise Grover Swank - third in a series of humorous cozies. Happy reading!

sherry fundin 10/6/15, 3:12 PM  

Hope you are enjoying the read.

sherry @ fundinmental My TT

Anonymous,  10/6/15, 3:42 PM  

I'll have to keep this one in mind.


Cleopatra Loves Books 10/7/15, 1:11 AM  

This sounds really interesting, I do like stories set in different places, and the forbidden love aspect under such dire circumstances I appealing too.

Daryl 10/7/15, 9:54 AM  

a timely and interesting story .. and i suspect young readers can identify even tho it takes place in a country unlike (and yet not) like ours

Anonymous,  10/7/15, 5:46 PM  

Young girls, LGBTIQ*, Nigeria, Biafran conflict. Love it, this goes on my tbr!

Aarti 10/9/15, 5:30 PM  

So many important themes covered in this one! I am impressed that the author deals with all of them well. Definitely one for me to look into.

Bryan G. Robinson 10/11/15, 5:08 PM  

I'll have to let my wife know about this one. This seems like she would like..not that I would dislike it, just that I'm more of a crime fiction reader most of the time.

I like how you do your reviews too with the quick facts. Very nice.

Anonymous,  10/17/15, 4:44 AM  

I can't wait to dive into this!

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