‘Under the Udala Trees’ by Chinelo Okparanta – Book Review

Blurb from Goodreads

One day in 1968, at the height of the Biafran civil war, Ijeoma’s father is killed and her world is transformed forever.

Separated from her grief-stricken mother, she meets another young lost girl, Amina, and the two become inseparable.

Theirs is a relationship that will shake the foundations of Ijeoma’s faith, test her resolve and flood her heart.

Inspired by her mother’s stories of war and Nigeria’s folktale traditions, Under the Udala Trees is Chinelo Okparanta’s deeply searching, powerful debut about the dangers of living and loving openly.

My Review

“If you set off on a witch-hunt, you will find a witch. When you find her, she will be dressed like any other person. But to you, her skin will glow in stripes of white and black. You will see her broom, and you will hear her witch-cry, and you will feel the effects of her spells on you. No matter how unlike a witch she is, there she will be, a witch, before your eyes.”

Beautifully heartfelt and poignant story about a young girl growing up in Nigeria and repercussions of what happens when she falls in love with another young girl. The book follows Ijeoma from youth through to adulthood and details all the prejudices that come with being LGBTQ+ in Nigeria.

The story is filled with genuine emotion and I was frequently moved to tears by some of the horribleness of what happened to Ijeoma and to some of those around her.

There are descriptions of bigotry, abusiveness and criminal behaviour that left me utterly chilled and filled with horror and sadness.

It’s the highest of praise for the themes covered within the book and shedding light on the current climate in Nigeria towards the LGBTQ+ community.

But on the writing side of things I felt a little let down.

I had heard this book mentioned in the same breath as the great Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie but, in my opinion, currently they are worlds apart. I found the prose to be a little too plain for my personal taste and I felt that the pacing was off.

Sadly I was a little bored of the writing by the end despite the quality of the storyline. For me, this book was a little bit too long (even though it was less than 350 pages!)

However it was a very moving story and well worth a read.

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