BOOK #: 2
GENRE: Historical Fiction
PUBLISHER: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
"On January 7, 2014, Nigeria's president, Goodluck Jonathan, signed into law a bill criminalizing same-sex relationships and the support of such relationships, making these offenses punishable by up to fourteen years in prison. In the northern states, the punishment is death by stoning. This novel attempts to give Nigeria's marginalized LGBTQ citizens a more powerful voice, and a place in our nation's history."
I think Under the Udala Trees is a success at this goal.
Ijeoma comes of age during Nigeria's Civil War. She struggles with the Christian religion her mother is teaching her and the truth she knows inside of her - that she is attracted to girls. After being sent away to school following the death of her father, she meets and falls in love with another displaced girl. When they are discovered, her mother returns to put an end to that however she can.
In a conservative, war-torn country, rife with prejudice, Ijeoma struggles with living a lie. Who is she if she is not her authentic self? The message Okparanta tells through this story is not just of Ijeoma, but of Nigeria's struggle, as well. She gives voice to the voiceless and connection to the disconnected.
I love that Okparanta included the native language, which is peppered throughout the story. It brings a real sense of setting, as well as a sense of culture.
My only issue with this book was the pacing was snail-like throughout most of the book. The story being told, however, was so gripping that even problems with pace couldn't stop me from reading the book. That, for me, is HUGE. So you know how good the message of the LGBTQ in Nigeria was for me to cast that issue aside.
I would love for you to pick up this book and tell me what you think.