Book 19 – A book with a plant in the title or on the cover – Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
Last book of 2019.
You know the way some people (read, for purposes of this post: a vast number of my dear African continent’s people) go on about how LGBTQIA people didn’t exist before the west “made it a popular lifestyle choice” (I can’t even tell you how much I steam when people say this). and about how “young people these days” think is an option to gain fame or some other messed up reason, deliberately forgetting the imprisonment, vilification and possible death that may come to those brave enough to set out into the open? Well, tell them to read this book.
Tell them to read this book and then tell them to shut up about choices and maybe examine their own privileged, bigoted lives.
And if at the end of this book they haven’t cried and their hearts haven’t melted, then they don’t have hearts. They just have stones in their chests.
There, I said it!
It is 1968, the height of the Nigerian civil war, when Ijeoma notices a young girl following her home. Her name is Amina and she is Hausa. Ijeoma is Igbo. Though they should be mortal enemies, the two girls swiftly fall into an irrevocable friendship: one that will shake the foundations of Ijeoma’s faith, test her resolve and flood her heart.
Publisher: Grant books
I loooooved this book. I can’t even tell you how much. Yet it broke my heart just as much as it made me love it. It’s beautifully written in the first person, exploring what it would be like to be a gay girl, then woman, in the late sixties and into the seventies, in Nigeria.
Taking you deep into the life of Ijeoma, we first meet her in 1968 when she’s eleven years old, at the start of the Biafran war. A huge upheaval upsets her comfortable, middle upper class life, which results in her being sent away to live in a safer part of the country with friends of the family. And as usually happened in those days, when you’re a poor young girl with no parents to speak for you, she effectively becomes the maid. The couple take in another girl who also needs a home, and is from a different tribe and religion, to help Ijeoma with her housework.
Like seriously, why did two adults with no children need so much help around the house?
It’s a delicate blend of war story and romance that works because it’s at heart, a story of Ijeoma’s experiences of life during, and after the war, and her struggle to reconcile her relationship with her mother, and her sexual awakening.
I found it profoundly heartbreaking and I have to admit that I often found myself with tears running down my face. The book is beautifully written, the subject handled so delicately and tactfully yet given such a rich background and relatedness to Ijeoma that you can’t remain stone hearted. I think the author took a very delicate, very often complex topic of sexuality and simplified it with such empathy and bravery that…I can’t even find the words. The language, the backgrounds, the characters are all so real and while there is no villain except the times and conventions of the time, you can feel the oppression, the guilt and the fear through the pages.
And if you grew up in Africa even up to the eighties and early nineties, you can’t help but relate to so much of the mother-daughter relationship, the fervour of christianity and the denial that most of the previous generation had to the next one not following in the paths they are expected to follow.
Ijeoma’s bravery and her final stand had me punching the air for her, while also crying for all she had to bear. And her relationship to her own daughter provides what we know – that when we know better, when we allow compassion to take over, we are all capable of so much more.
I really, really, really loved this book and could read it over and over again.
Please do find it, read it and share it with everyone you know.
Beg, borrow or ask to be gifted the book for the new year, or borrow it from your local library. I’d suggest buying yourself a copy and reading it till it’s yellow and faded to be honest!
I purchased my book, and so can you by following this affiliate link for bookdepository . Should you follow the link and buy a book, I’ll get 5% off the price of my next purchase, so give me some love if you. They provide free worldwide shipping so that’s an added bonus to their relatively low book prices.
Have a happy new year!