Friday, 30 June 2017

Book Review: Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta


Author: Chinelo Okparanta

Pages: 336

Publication: 4th February 2016 by Granta

Reason for Reading: I originally listened to the audiobook of this back in Marchbecause it caught my eye on my library's Overdrive. To celebrate Pride Month and LGBT Lit, Granta sent me my own copy and in exchange I agreed to give an honest review on my blog - thank you Granta!

Goodreads Synopsis: 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


Under the Udala Trees is a LGBTQ coming-of-age story about Ijeoma, a Nigerian girl who is sent away from home during the Biafran War and falls in love with a Muslim Hausa girl. As the story develops and as Ijeoma grows up, we see her question her religion, sexuality, and societal pressures she feels.

The first thing I noted about this book was how concise the writing was and how much of an effect that had on my experience. Much like with Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing, no word felt misplaced and there was no overuse of extensive descriptions - it worked incredibly well and got the message home.

Ijeoma is a quietly powerful character; she is very assertive from a young age and questions her mother's interpretations of the Bible that are to do with homosexuality and so a large part of the first half of the book is Ijeoma's trying to balance her Christian beliefs and the way she feels. This is something I've never read about before, especially from a non-Western perspective. The second half of the book focuses on her adult life and deals more with society's expectations of women and for me this was the most hard-hitting section of the book.

I listened to this as an audiobook narrated by Robin Miles, and I was blown away by how good a production it is. Miles makes the characters come to life and also I really felt that her narration added to my experience of the story because of the accents she uses and the songs she performs - which to be honest if I had just been reading the book, I would have probably skipped over.

Overall, I gave UNDER THE UDALA TREES 4 out of 5 stars - I'm delighted that I chose to listen to this story, and now I definitely want to read more Okparanta in the future.