Under the Udala Trees - A Review.

My first thought after reading this book was this is definitely African. Again, this follows my judgment that African writers never lose their African root and originality. Anyways, you most certainly did not follow this link to read about my opinion on African writers and their root.

Here's what you opened the link for - a review of Chinelo Okparanta's Under the Udala Trees. The book is set in the middle- late 1900s; 1967-1970 specifically which is the time of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war. It tells the story of Ijeoma, a young girl who is 'unfortunate' to witness the “the ruckus of armored cars and shelling machines, bomber planes and their loud engines sending shock waves through our ears”. It is in this unpleasant situation that she loses her father, particularly during an air raid.

Okparanta captures the aftermath of what loosing a loved one can cause. She writes of Adora, Ijeoma's mother who doesn't find the cliché fortitude to bear the loss.

From here, the novel goes to its major focus- the issue of lesbianism. Okparanta explains how the protagonist, Ijeoma meets with Amina, a girl who has in some ways suffered the same fate with her. They find such love- young, deep, mysterious, physical, but assuredly passionate that to them they must be the pioneers of such. It is the kind of words that the novelist employs that creates a lucid picture in the mind of the reader about what she is painting “Our bodies being touched by the fire that was each other’s flesh … Tingly and good and like everything perfect in the world.”

Okparanta has done something unique in this book, creating an equilibrium between violence and love; two contrasting forces. The novel also shows something else, the hopelessness and ludicrousness of religion in providing answers to questions on sexuality "I went down the aisle to the front of the church, as I had done the time before. I knelt down before God. I would have prayed, but somehow I could not find the words to do so ... Not a single word to express myself, not a single one to explain or to defend myself, not one single word to apologize and beg forgiveness for my sins.”

The novel also leaves one with some questions: Who sets the benchmark for love, both given and taken? Society? Religion? We ourselves? Does marriage provide answers to love and sexuality?

The book might also be prophetic as to what lies ahead for a country like Nigeria- acceptance of gayism. This is in the letters between Ijeoma and her lover, Ndidi, where they dream of a place where “love is allowed to be love.” Every night she changes the name of the town. One night it is Aba. The next Umuahia. “Eventually I have to laugh,” Ijeoma says. “How is it that this town can be so many places at once?” “All of them are here in Nigeria,” Ndidi responds. “You see, this place will be all of Nigeria.”

A good book. It however didn't hit me too hard as I had expected. I would rate it a 6/10.

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