Under The Udala Trees
The year is 1970; the place is Nnewi in south-eastern Nigeria. She is a girl on the cusp of teen-age; and she is in love, with another girl.
After losing her father in the civil war, Ijeoma proceeds at her mother's behest, to live with a teacher and his wife. While there, she meets Amina with whom she becomes very friendly, and with whom she learns to explore her body and sexuality. In a short while, the relationship between Ijeoma and Amina is no longer an experiment, but a full blown intimate relationship.
When they are found out, both girls are separated and Ijeoma's mother attempts to 'cure' Ijeoma of the abomination through a series of Bible studies and prayer. Ijeoma's mother's bible thumping leads Ijeoma into asking more questions and querying the veracity and absoluteness of religion.
Eventually, Ijeoma bows to pressure and gets married to Chibundu, a childhood friend with whom she once shared a kiss. She does not enjoy the marriage and finally returns to Ndidi, a woman whom she loves and with whom she had an affair with before she got married.
With this novel, Okparanta gives a voice to sexual minorities, especially in Nigeria where they have been declared illegal. Often, one feels that Ijeoma in the novel is the author's means of voicing her thoughts and questioning the absolute positions taken by religion. Truth be told, religious people may find this novel offensive and reject it outright. But therein lies the strength of Under the Udala Trees: its boldness and daring as it calls the reader to engage in an open-minded discussion of sexuality based on facts.
Then, there is the fact that Chinelo Okparanta writes beautifully and with much depth.
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