A Review of Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

 

Review

This is a story set in Nigeria, in the 1960s during Nigeria’s civil war (The Biafran war). We get the story from the protagonist of the book, 11 year old Ijeoma, who loses her father during a raid and her mother decides to take her to safety. At this point I just feel that Ijeoma’s parents are weak. Like how can a whole architect just give up on his family like that? Anyway, Ijeoma’s mother takes her to live with the grammar school teacher and his wife as a house girl and in exchange they educate her and take care of her basic needs. This is where the gist of the story begins with her relationship with Amina and her subsequent relationships.

The civil war ravages and in the process displaces everyone and at the same time brings the most unlikely people together, it changes the lifestyle of Ijeoma’s family and they become poorer than they were before the war. It also forms a friendship between Amina a Hausa girls and Ijeoma and Igbo girl.

It is because of this war that Ijeoma is loses her father and is separated from her mother. Had it not been for the war, Ijeoma would not have met Amina.  Which brings to fore another theme of religion and tribe. Amina is a Hausa girl, although her character is not properly developed, we learn that she is a Muslim. She also comes to live with the grammar school teacher and his wife. Historically the Hausa and Igbo are from different religions with different cultural lifestyles which in most cases members of both tribes to not agree.

As the book progresses we see the conflicts that Ijeoma has to face, from being in same sex relationships which is a taboo according to her Igbo culture and her Christian values. The only way her mother felt Ijeoma would be cleansed is by spending long hours studying the Bible. Religion was the only thing her mother could run to in trying to find a solution for the evil she felt her daughter had committed. I felt Ijeoma’s feelings towards her husband remained a mystery, did she really love him? I wonder why she got married to him in the first place.

A book that is beautifully written on a topic that is seldom written in an African setting, to add to this during the 1960s. Issues of same sex relationships have only come out in the open in the recent past and not as early as the 60s.  Granted many African communities and writers shy away from the topic. This topic was greatly contrasted by the civil war that was happening then and the war that is currently happening in Africa on same sex relationships.

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