Well, I’ve read my first book under the 2016 challenge of reading stories from and about countries/cultures that I just haven’t read much about before! And luckily, it was fantastic.
A gift from my sister for Christmas, Chinelo Okparanta’s Under The Udala Trees became the third book I read in 2016.
Review: Under the Udala Trees, Chinelo Okparanta
Published: 2015Length: 323
Plot: Beginning with the start of Nigeria’s civil war, this novel follows Ijeoma as she comes of age and discovers love, religion, and sacrifice.
Most Memorable Line(s): “Something Mama used to say: if you are looking for something, chances are you will find it in the last place you think to look. I wondered if the girl would find her mother in the graveyard.”
-Just a simple, yet beautiful, description of the horrors of war, especially when it first begins.
What I liked: So I liked allllllllllmost everything about this book. What I should say is I’m terrible at reading the synopsis, apparently – I did not realize that this was going to be a story focused on LGBT issues until they came up in the book! It was a nice surprise to see, because I had expected the book to focus more on the war than it did. I loved the way Ijeoma develops throughout. It showcased such strong writing on Okparanta’s part. She was never a stereotype and she was never a martyr, and that was really necessary for this story. So after I discovered who Ijeoma was, I wasn’t surprised when Okparanta’s author’s note at the end said that the point of this book was to give the LGBT Nigerians a voice after the country had criminalized homosexuality. I loved the way that Okparanta explored the relationship Ijeoma had with her mother and her mother’s religion. Christianity is so complex, I loved that there was a distinct difference between the way Ijeoma and Adaora read the text. It’s so important to highlight how easy it is for people to read things differently, depending on what they want to see. I also really liked that Ijeoma was given the ability to explore relationships – it wasn’t only ever Amina, there was also Ndidi. And there was also Chibundu. I think it was so important to not make Ijeoma’s life perfect and easy. That she married a man – despite her feelings for women – is something that happens to many, many people in countries all around the world. I just thought that this novel was incredibly realistic and also extremely hopeful. It was a sad novel at times, but never depressing. And that’s a big feat – to talk about sadness, to make your readers feel sadness without them wanting to put the book down. That’s actually something she discusses in this interview with Rumpus, and it was a good one, so I’d recommend checking it out.
What I didn’t like: The only things I didn’t “like” about this book was that certain things sorta just popped up oddly? Particularly, Amina did. All of a sudden, this character who we hadn’t actually met was being mentioned, and it definitely threw me out of the story for a bit. Similarly, I couldn’t totally tell if Ijeoma was a girl or boy at the start. And while that doesn’t necessarily matter in all stories, it most certainly did in this one! So yeah, I guess you can call that the initial set up. It sorta felt like a couple of things were just plopped into the story randomly, even when they were massively important.