Summary and book reviews of Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

Under the Udala Trees

by Chinelo Okparanta

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta X
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2015, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2016, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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About this Book

Book Summary

Inspired by Nigeria's folktales and its war, Under the Udala Trees is a deeply searching, powerful debut about the dangers of living and loving openly.

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
One of NPR's Best Books of 2015
One of the Los Angeles Times 56 Fabulous Works of Fiction and Poetry for the Holidays
One of the Wall Street Journal's 15 Books to Read This Fall
One of the Millions Most Anticipated Reads for 2015
2015 NAACP Image Awards Nominee (Outstanding Literary Work of Fiction)
One of The Root's 15 Powerful Works of Fiction by Black Authors in 2015
One of Cosmopolitan Magazine's 24 Books to Read This Fall
One of Gawker's 9 Must-Reads for Fall
Nominated for the NAACP Image Awards, "Outstanding Literary Work—Fiction"
Lambda Literary Award Finalist, "Lesbian Fiction"
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
One of the Wall Street Journal's "15 Books to Read This Fall"
A Shelf Awareness "Best Book of 2015"
.... plus many more awards & nominations


Ijeoma comes of age as her nation does; born before independence, she is eleven when civil war breaks out in the young republic of Nigeria. Sent away to safety, she meets another displaced child and they, star-crossed, fall in love. They are from different ethnic communities. They are also both girls. 

When their love is discovered, Ijeoma learns that she will have to hide this part of herself. But there is a cost to living inside a lie.

As Edwidge Danticat has made personal the legacy of Haiti's political coming of age, Okparanta's Under the Udala Trees uses one woman's lifetime to examine the ways in which Nigerians continue to struggle toward selfhood. Even as their nation contends with and recovers from the effects of war and division, Nigerian lives are also wrecked and lost from taboo and prejudice. This story offers a glimmer of hope — a future where a woman might just be able to shape her life around truth and love. 

1

Midway between Old Oba-Nnewi Road and New Oba-Nnewi Road, in that general area bound by the village church and the primary school, and where Mmiri John Road drops off only to begin again, stood our house in Ojoto. It was a yellow-painted two-story cement construction built along the dusty brown trails just south of River John, where Papa's mother almost drowned when she was a girl, back when people still washed their clothes on the rocky edges of the river.

Ours was a gated compound, guarded at the front by a thicket of rose and hibiscus bushes. Leading up to the bushes, a pair of parallel green hedges grew, dotted heavily in pink by tiny, star-like ixora flowers. Vendors lined the road adjacent to the hedges, as did trees thick with fruit: orange, guava, cashew, and mango trees. In the recesses of the roadsides, where the bushes rose high like a forest, even more trees stood: tall irokos, whistling pines, and a scattering of oil and coconut palms. We had to turn our eyes up ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Questions and Discussion Points

  1. What did you learn about Nigeria's civil war? What role does it play in this novel? What is the significance of Ijeoma and Amina being from separate tribes?

  2. What is "ubosi chi ji ehihe jie" or "the day night fell in the afternoon," and how does it impact the lives of Ijeoma and her family? What does her father tell Ijeoma about worrying? Why does he stay in the house rather than join his family in the bunker?

  3. After her father's death, Ijeoma begins to think that perhaps the nature of life is change. Does her view on this subject evolve throughout the story? Is change
    ultimately presented as a positive force or a negative ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about Under the Udala Trees. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.

Consider Ijeoma's mother throughout the novel. Where does she let her daughter down and where does she help her?
I agree that the biggest letdown was in effect leaving her daughter yo be a servant of sorts. She was also not understanding or supportive of her daughter's relationships, hollowing society at the time, rather then her daughter's needs. She find ... - Peggy H

How did you respond to the violence portrayed in the novel – both of the war and against the LGBTQ community?
LindaB, yes, it is hard to get the visions out of one's head even from reading the book. I agree that this would be a hard book to film (or of which to watch the film), but perhaps a necessary film to be made. - juliaa

How do you react to Ijeoma being told her sexuality is an 'abomination'?
Personally this made me feel very sad, but unfortunately we know that this happens every day - and not just in places like Nigeria. In the US in 2016 families are still split apart because of parents like Ijeoma's mother. It may be getting better ... - jodig

How do you respond to Chibundu's treatment of his wife and daughter? How does this compare to the way women are treated in other cultures?
While I don't think that his behavior is surprising given societal norms at the time I do think that his change in behavior came on pretty suddenly and I found found it a little unbelievable. - jodig

How do you respond to Ijeoma's relationship with God and her faith?
Her religious beliefs are moored in her mother's beliefs . Her mother and the church believe she is guilty of "an abomination " , but she herself does not - iread49

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Chinelo Okparanta's debut novel Under the Udala Trees is a heartfelt coming-of-age story set in Nigeria. It should especially appeal to those who like reading about other countries and cultures, as well as anyone who simply enjoys a well crafted coming-of-age novel; book groups in particular will likely find it's a good choice for discussion.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review (703 words).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Okparanta's characters are just as compelling as teenagers as they are as adults and readers will be swept up in this tale of the power of love.

Booklist

Even if Ijeoma's character is too often defined only by her orientation, this is a remarkable portrait of a young woman's coming-of-age in a society where rigid interpretations of the Bible label same-sex relationships as an 'abomination,' and where violence is all too often part of the 'solution.'

Library Journal

This absorbing story parallels the ongoing struggle for equality in Nigeria and is a powerful contribution to LGBT and African literature. Readers will finish the book hoping that every however-flawed character will find his or her own version of happiness.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Here is writing rich in the beautiful intimacies of people who love each other - and wise about the importance of holding onto those precious connections in a world that is, more often than not, dangerous and cold.

Author Blurb Edwidge Danticat, author of Claire of the Sea Light and many others
Exceeding the extraordinary promise of Happiness Like Water, her stunning story collection, Chinelo Okparanta has written a remarkable and exquisite first novel about wars - both external and internal - endurance, survival, and love. A coming of age story that demands not just to be not just read, but felt, Under the Udala Trees, wraps us in the spell of an exceptionally talented writer and storyteller.

Author Blurb Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow and others
Chinelo Okparanta is major new voice not only because of her mesmerizing storytelling, but for her bravery and originality. She is a truth teller and soothsayer. In this debut novel, she brings us two unforgettable heroines, exposes the past - with a lens both panoramic and kaleidoscopic - and predicts a future heavy with struggle yet glowing with hope. Under the Udala Trees is breathtaking, rich with history and heart

Author Blurb Justin Torres, author of We the Animals
Under the Udala Tree is is an evocative, fiercely told story about a woman's life, about family and love, and about becoming who you are meant to be. Chinelo Okparanta is an incendiary, essential voice.

Author Blurb Taiye Selasi, author of Ghana Must Go
Boldly unadorned and utterly heartbreaking - Okparanta dares to tell a story that the world desperately needs to hear. Almost fable-like in its simplicity, Under the Udala Trees interrogates constructions of womanhood, of nationhood, and of sexuality. In these elegant folds of restrained prose lies a searing condemnation: of violence, religion and patriarchy in modern day Nigeria. Raw, emotionally intelligent and unflinchingly honest, Under the Udala Trees is a triumph.

Author Blurb Maaza Mengiste, author of Beneath the Lion's Gaze
With this novel, Chinelo Okparanta has firmly placed her name amongst the ranks of some of our most talented and unflinching writers. Using words with both precision and sensitivity, Okparanta tells a tale of conflict and compromise, of love and power, and of family - those we are born into, and those we make for ourselves. A stunning book. Unforgettable.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Nigeria's Stance Against Homosexuality

Over the course of Under the Udala Trees, the heroine, Ijeoma, discovers she's a lesbian, at first fighting her inclinations and trying to fit in, but later accepting that she's different from many of her peers.

Ex Nigerian President Jonathan Goodluck, who signed the country's Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act into law Although homosexuals have gained more acceptance over the past decade in the United States and other Western countries, they've actually lost rights over the past few years in many areas of Africa. Same-sex relations are currently outlawed in at least 34 of the 55 African states, with Nigeria's Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act being among the most strict. Unanimously passed by Nigeria's House of Representatives and signed into law by (then) President Goodluck Jonathan on January 7, 2014, the law imposes a penalty of up to 14 ...

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