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Under the Udala Trees
     

Under the Udala Trees

4.7 3
by Chinelo Okparanta
 

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“If you’ve ever wondered if love can conquer all, read [this] stunning coming-of-age debut.” — Marie Claire

A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
 
Named a Best Book of the Year by
NPR
BuzzFeed
• Bustle
• Shelf Awareness
• Publishers Lunch

Overview

“If you’ve ever wondered if love can conquer all, read [this] stunning coming-of-age debut.” — Marie Claire

A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
 
Named a Best Book of the Year by
NPR
BuzzFeed
• Bustle
• Shelf Awareness
• Publishers Lunch

 
“[This] love story has hypnotic power.”—The New Yorker

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

Inspired by Nigeria’s folktales and its war, Chinelo Okparanta shows us, in “graceful and precise” prose (New York Times Book Review), how the struggles and divisions of a nation are inscribed on the souls of its citizens. “Powerful and heartbreaking, Under the Udala Trees is a deeply moving commentary on identity, prejudice, and forbidden love” (BuzzFeed).
 
“An important and timely read, imbued with both political ferocity and mythic beauty.” Bustle
 
“A real talent. [Under the Udala Trees is] the kind of book that should have come with a cold compress kit. It’s sad and sensual and full of heat.” — John Freeman, Electric Literature
 
“Demands not just to be read, but felt.” — Edwidge Danticat 

 

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction
Winner of the 2016 Jessie Redmon Fauset Book Awards—Fiction
Nominated for the NAACP Image Awards, "Outstanding Literary Work—Fiction"
Nominated for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards, Fiction
Short-listed for the 2017 International Dublin Literary Award
Finalist for the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction
Long-listed for the 2015 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize

Long-listed for the 2016 Chautauqua Prize
Semifinalist for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
One of NPR's "Best Books of 2015"
One of Buzzfeed's "The 24 Best Fiction Books of 2015"
One of Bustle's "2015’s 25 Best Books, Fiction Edition"
Included on the Los Angeles Times's "Holiday Books Roundup"

One of the Wall Street Journal's "15 Books to Read This Fall "
One of Buzzfeed's "19 New Books You Need to Read This Fall "
One of Bustle's "Best Books of September 2015"
A Shelf Awareness "Best Book of 2015"
One of the Sun Herald's "Ten noteworthy fiction and nonfiction titles on the way"
One of Gawker's "9 Must-Reads" for Fall
One of Publishers Lunch's "Favorite Books of 2015, From the News Editor"
One of Buzzfeed UK's "27 Brilliant Books You Must Read This Winter"

"Incorporating Nigerian folktales, the author weaves a lush coming-of-age tale of forbidden love but also of strength and resilience... The vivid imagery of the bloody civil war and the stark Nigerian post-war landscape complements the sumptuous prose. This book has universal appeal."—Historical Novel Society

"Under the Udala Trees is a gripping story of love, faith, and turmoil in post–civil war Nigeria. When Ijeoma falls in love with another girl, she must come to terms with who she is in a society that refuses to accept her. A heartbreaking and moving account of Ijeoma’s coming-of-age, as well as the story of a country during a time of great disturbance, Under the Udala Trees will affect you deeply."—Buzzfeed, "The 24 Best Fiction Books of 2015"

"Ijeoma is a young girl growing up in the difficult years following Nigeria's 1967 Biafran War. But coming of age in a war-torn country isn't her only challenge: She's also struggling to balance her taboo same-sex relationship with her mother's (and her society's) expectations. Chinelo Okparanta's writing is so immersive that even readers who have nothing in common with Ijeoma will feel like they've lived her experience. I couldn't put the book down and even pulled an all-nighter to finish it (then was a zombie at work the next day). Plan your schedule around this binge read!"—NPR, "Our Guide To 2015’s Great Reads"

"At the height of the Biafran war, two Nigerian girls fall in love. The romance is brief, but for Ijeoma, the narrator of this début novel, it is the beginning of years of pain...The love story has hypnotic power...Details of disco-era Nigeria—jerricans filled with palm wine, a suitor in bell-bottom trousers—suggest Okparanta’s skill and promise."—The New Yorker, "Briefly Noted"

"One of the most talked about debuts this fall."—The Wall Street Journal, "15 Books to Read This Fall"

"[Okparanta] is a natural storyteller, and her words carry a graceful, folkloric quality. Unlike myths, though, this young writer is doing the worthy work of openly revealing the suppression that Nigerian LGBTQ people continue to face daily. Under the Udala Trees is an important and timely read, imbued with both political ferocity and mythic beauty."Bustle

"If you've ever wondered if love can conquer all, read Ijeoma's story, set in Nigeria—her falling in love with another girl is problematic, if not illegal. The result: a stunning coming-of-age debut."—Marie Claire, "What We're Reading"

"Okparanta [is] a graceful and precise writer."—New York Times Book Review

“Remarkable…Timely…Under the Udala Trees confirms [Okparanta's] talent, recalling the work of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in its powerful interweaving of the personal and the political. Okparanta’s simple, direct prose is interspersed with the language of allegory and folklore and is scattered with biblical references. The dizzying scope of her storytelling keeps you gripped to the end.”—Financial Times

"Gripping...Okparanta deftly negotiates a balance between a love story and a war story...Udala Trees serves as a sobering reminder that despite the legality of gay marriage in much of the western hemisphere and in Europe and the US, not too far away LGBT communities endure government-sanctioned terror and brutality. Okparanta exquisitely captures this disparity through an undaunted Ijeoma, who in pursuit of seeking a fulfilling, joyful life gains an insightful awareness about the relationship between hatred and persecution – one that extends well beyond Nigeria’s borders."—The Guardian

"A real talent. [Under the Udala Trees is] the kind of book that should have come with a cold compress kit. It’s sad and sensual and full of heat."—John Freeman, Electric Lit

"She had me at 'inspired by Nigeria’s folktales…', but I stayed for a story that should be told far more often than it is: That of a same-sex couple (two girls, in this case) who fall in love very young and keep their bond through the ravages of war, cultural ignorance, time, and fate. Ijeoma and Amina are born into a 1960s world of conflict, and while the decades may change, the conflicts continue, especially for the couple themselves. As Ijeoma tells us, 'If I had not met Amina, who knows, maybe there would be no story to tell.' That’s the simple but deep truth at the heart of every love story, especially a love story between two girls whose skin happens to be dark."—Literary Hub, "10 Overlooked Novels by Women of Color in 2015"

"Rich in complexity, compassionate in the treatment of political violence and flagrant oppression...Okparanta’s prose feels natural, effortless. She renders the Nigerian landscape in lyrical bursts...and, as in her short stories, the rhythms slide seamlessly into intimate, conversational tones, equal parts folk tale and confessional. Throughout the book, many characters pound yams at the kitchen counter, echoing the constantly beating drums in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The hearts of the people beat in unison, the symbol seems to say — as do the hearts of literary forefathers and descendants."—Star Tribune

"Chinelo Okparanta’s stunning debut novel, Under The Udala Trees, is an epic story of love in the face of despair. Set in post-Civil War Nigeria, young Ijeoma comes of age in a country where following her heart may get her killed. Despite this reality, and the confounding religious principals she is raised with, Ijeoma’s story is one of tremendous hope."—Lambda Literary

"My heart broke over and over while reading this splendid, tragic, garment-rending novel, as much about doomed love as it is about religion, shame, and wanting badly to fit into a culture that won't fit around you."—Sarah Weinman, Publishers Lunch, "Favorite Books of 2015, From the News Editor"
"Okparanta dexterously layers her story with historical events and Nigerian folktales to give a fuller picture of both the beauty and conflict of the country and its cultures...[she] manages to leave readers hopeful for a better future through love and courage."  Shelf Awareness, starred review
"I have never seen or read anything quite like Under the Udala Trees. Debut novelist Chinelo Okparanta (remember that name) blends traditional storytelling with a knockout plot." Essence

"Courageous and heartbreaking and multifaceted." Refinery 29

"A unique story told in a distinctive, lyrical voice."—Newsday

"[Under the Udala Trees], though firmly rooted in time and place, adds up to a universally salient and timely story of love against all odds."—The Rumpus

"[Chinelo Okparanta is] one of the rising stars of current African fiction...the emotional honesty that drives [Under the Udala Trees] is devastating."—Christian Science Monitor

"Powerful and heartbreaking, Under the Udala Trees is a deeply moving commentary on identity, prejudice, and forbidden love."—Buzzfeed, "19 New Books You Need to Read This Fall"

"Elegant and serious prose...Ijeoma is a narrator who reveals herself as the story develops, strong-willed, witty and unforgettable...It’s no small feat that a novel so weighed with heartbreak can end in a place of hope for the future." Lambda Literary

"Chinelo Okparanta’s debut novel eloquently advocates resisting the narratives handed down by previous generations, and the unadorned eroticism of Ijeoma’s relationships with other women is a powerful rebuke to the religious doctrine that condemns them as an 'abomination'. Okparanta takes comfort in the seemingly endless capacity for people and the world to change, but her postscript is poignant: in 2014, Nigeria criminalised the very relationships she portrays with such thoughtfulness and integrity."—Observer (UK)

"[A] striking debut novel...The scenes of war are rich in devastating detail, and Ijeoma's relationships with her parents are nuanced and affecting. Amina and Ijeoma's first love is sweetly, heartbreakingly portrayed...[The] novel stands as a necessary and important testament to the fact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people continue to face life-threatening challenges."—Cleveland.com

"[Okparanta] is unafraid to write about everything. Her prose is clear and beautifully paced."—The Recorder, A Staff Pick

"During the Biafra war of the late ’60s, Ijeoma’s world is transformed forever when her father is killed and she is separated from her grief-stricken mother. Lost and alone, she meets another young girl, Amina, and the two become inseparable. Their relationship will shake Ijeoma’s faith and test her resolve."—Buzzfeed UK, "27 Brilliant Books You Must Read This Winter"

"Give[s] voice to the often voiceless, offer[s] the outside world a window into their lives, and provide[s] a glimmer of hope for change."—The Globe and Mail

"The journey to self-acceptance, and love – more difficult, the author reminds us, at other times, and in other places during our time, when same-sex love seems alluringly, misleadingly secure – is charted in minute steps in this wise-beyond-its-years novel...In an arresting understatement near the end of her novel, Okparanta writes, 'Some things can't easily be explained.' But they can be written about. Told. And you can tell someone. And really, you must."—Bay Area Reporter Online

"Powerful and extremely heartbreaking, this debut novel from Okaparanta explores themes of identity, forbidden love and prejudice and is sure to keep you gripped over the winter."—Pop Crunch

"Okparanta’s novel is full of heart, and it’s incredibly smart — Under the Udala Trees is a must-read this fall."—Hello Giggles

"Under the Udala Trees is written in a folkloric cadence, a music that echoes the many Nigerian war stories and songs that are woven into the book...[It] is a novel as much about queer experience as it is about origin and incidence, a story of war, of purpose and fate and accident...Clearly in the tradition Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Edwidge Danticat, and others whom Okparanta calls in her acknowledgements 'my predecessors, my guiding lights,' Under the Udala Trees does something further. Here we have a narrative of war, of LGBTQ Nigerians, and of Nigerians of faith. Ijeoma’s faith, her war-torn childhood, and her sexuality are not politized items, but deeply felt...But the power of Under the Udala Trees, a book that is both rich in history and magnificently felt, comes not from its panoramic displays of violence and terror, but from its nuanced refusals of grandiosity, its steady and elegant churn...Under the Udala Trees is unrelentingly a novel of hope...What is most surprising in this book, which, by description, is a story of LGBTQ rights and experience against the backdrop of Civil War, is that it is not a work of agitation. But this may be Okparanta’s sly shattering, a hopeful fracturing that allows for change."—Literary Hub

"[Under the Udala Trees] speaks of the emotional and spiritual fertility that comes only when you are true to yourself...Stark, evocative prose...To the eyes of much of Nigeria, same-sex love is unnatural, to Okparanta unnatural love is the one that doesn’t set you free to be fully yourself."—Business Day UK  

"Okparanta is masterful at articulating the pressures living through endless violence has on each of her characters' psyches...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. Written with courage and compassion, thi debut novel by Okparanta stunningly captures a young girl's coming of age against the backdrop of a nation at war. "—Kirkus, starred review

"[A] deeply affecting debut novel...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.' The fact that Nigeria criminalized same-sex marriages in 2014 makes Okparanta’s tale that much more sobering and urgent. It is especially gratifying that one of the defining tag lines of the feminist movement, 'a woman without a man,' just might be co-opted here in another time and place."—Booklist

"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."—Library Journal

“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.” – Edwidge Danticat, author of Claire of the Sea Light and many 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."– Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow and others

"Under the Udala Trees is my favorite debut novel of the year—gorgeous, moving, and entirely hopeful. I wept through the final pages of this beautifully written, extremely necessary book."– Jami Attenberg, author of Saint Mazie, The Middlesteins, and others

Under the Udala Trees 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.”– Justin Torres, author of We the Animals

“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.” – Taiye Selasi, author of Ghana Must Go
 
"Under the Udala Trees has all the ingredients of a great novel: set against the backdrop of war, it tells a story of loss, forbidden love, and one woman’s fight against tradition on her journey to becoming who she really is. An African bildungsroman, its direct and folkloric prose captures the spirit and mood of its time and place. This is a brave and timely achievement." – Helon Habila, author of Measuring Time
 
“Chinelo Okparanta tells a unique and devastatingly hopeful story about the paradox of love: Even in the midst of war, and in a world dominated by violence and prejudice, still, love transcends." – Mia Couto, author of Sleepwalking Land and others
 
"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."–Maaza Mengiste, author of Beneath the Lion's Gaze

"A searing, yet delicately nuanced, story of an age of innocence first shattered by the vulgarity of war and its aftermath, and then by forbidden desire and religious intolerance. Under the Udala Trees is narrated in lyrical and lucid prose, in a wise and compassionate voice." – Zakes Mda, author of The Heart of Redness and others
Publishers Weekly
08/10/2015
Okparanta's excellent debut novel is a heartbreaker. Ijeoma is a young girl in civil war-torn Ojoto, Nigeria. When the war takes her father, and her mother can no longer care for her, she is sent away to family friends in the city of Aba. While with them, Ijeoma, part of the Igbo tribe, meets Amina, an orphan from the Hausa tribe. Despite the heavy cultural and religious taboos, the girls fall in love and begin to explore their sexuality. This behavior comes to an abrupt halt when they are caught and Ijeoma returns to her mother, who inundates her in religious instruction. Ijeoma and Amina attend the same school and wrestle the conflict between their attraction and the pressures upon them. After Amina marries a man, Ijeoma is devastated, but soon meets another woman, Ndidi. Eventually, caving to pressure, Ijeoma marries her childhood friend Chibundu and tries to be a happy wife but as time passes, Ijeoma must contend with her feelings for Ndidi, which she must keep secret, and finally make a fateful decision. 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. (Sept.)
Library Journal
06/15/2015
After 13-year-old Ijeoma is uprooted during the waning days of the Nigerian Civil War, she becomes a housemaid for a grammar school teacher and his wife who are friends of her late father. Joining this makeshift Igbo family is Amina, a Hausa orphan who becomes Ijeoma's confidant. Okparanta's novel, after her story collection Happiness, Like Water, tells of regret and remorse and of using prayer to dominate and douse thoughts and desires, as both girls are sent to a religious academy to "reform" their "immoral" behavior. In several brief chapters, a now-senior Ijeoma takes readers on a wistful journey, with each section offering just enough suspense to make readers want to turn the page. There are the frequent Bible sessions with Mama, who reiterates Adam and Eve, while Ijeoma questions her ability to love and be loved. There is also the burgeoning relationship with local teacher Ndini and the hasty marriage to childhood friend Chibundu in an attempt to save Ijeoma from violence (or even death) if her relationship with Ndini is exposed. VERDICT 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. [See Prepub Alert, 3/9/15.]—Stephanie Sendaula, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2015-06-30
In 1968, during the second year of the war between Biafra and Nigeria, 11-year-old Ijeoma is sent away from her home in Ojoto for safety by her mother, Adaora. Ijeoma's father, Uzo, is dead, destroyed in a bombing raid that nearly decimated their village, and her mother is quickly unraveling, unable to cope with the ongoing war and famine. But Adaora's love for her daughter is limitless; when Ijeoma was born early, for example, Adaora gave herself headaches learning about nutrition to make sure her baby grew healthy. Okparanta is masterful at articulating the pressures living through endless violence has on each of her characters' psyches; Adaora crumbles under the harshness of the ongoing war. Her plan is to go to her parents' house in Aba and see if things are better there while Ijeoma stays with friends in Nnewi; she'll send for the girl to join her when it's safe. But Ijeoma feels this separation is prompted less by necessity than by the fact that Adaora now finds her daughter an impossible burden. Alone in Nnewi, Ijeoma falls in love with another displaced girl, Amina. But when their relationship is discovered, Ijeoma is sent back to her mother, who is determined to teach Ijeoma that two girls can't be romantically involved. In the years following, Ijeoma must reconcile her feelings toward women with the pressure to marry a man and be accepted in a country that makes being gay punishable by death. In language both sparse and lyrical, Okparanta manages to articulate a child's wide-eyed understanding of the breakdown of the world around her. We see, too, a detailed rebuilding of that world along with Ijeoma's maturity into womanhood. 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. Written with courage and compassion, this debut novel by Okparanta (Happiness, Like Water, 2013) stunningly captures a young girl's coming of age against the backdrop of a nation at war.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780544811799
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
09/20/2016
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
105,346
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.40(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

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 toward the sky to see the tops of these trees. So high were the bushes and so tall were the trees.
    In the harmattan, the Sahara winds arrived and stirred up the dust, and clouded the air, and rendered the trees and bushes wobbly like a mirage, and made the sun a blurry ball in the sky.
    In the rainy season, the rains wheedled the wildness out of the dust, and everything took back its clarity and its shape.
    This was the normal cycle of things: the rainy season followed by the dry season, and the harmattan folding itself within the dry. All the while, goats bleated. Dogs barked. Hens and roosters scuttled up and down the roads, staying close to the compounds to which they belonged. Striped swordtails and monarchs, grass yellows and redtops—all the butterflies—flitted leisurely from one flower to the next.
    As for us, we moved about in that unhurried way of the butterflies, as if the breeze was sweet, as if the sun on our skin was a caress. As if slow paces allowed for the savoring of both. This was the way things were before the war: our lives, tamely moving forward.
    But in 1967, the war barged in and installed itself all over the place. By 1968, the whole of Ojoto had begun pulsing with the ruckus of armored cars and shelling machines, bomber planes and their loud engines sending shock waves through our ears.
    By 1968, our men had begun slinging guns across their shoulders and carrying axes and machetes, blades glistening in the sun; and out on the streets, every hour or two in the afternoons and evenings, their chanting could be heard, loud voices pouring out like libations from their mouths: “Biafra, win the war!”
    It was that same year, 1968—the second year of the war—that Mama sent me off.
    By this time, talk of all the festivities that would take place when Biafra defeated Nigeria had already begun to dwindle, supplanted, rather, by a collective fretting over what would become of us when Nigeria prevailed: Would we be stripped of our homes, and of our lands? Would we be forced into menial servitude? Would we be reduced to living on rationed food? How long into the future would we have to bear the burden of our loss? Would we recover?
    All these questions, because by 1968, Nigeria was already winning, and everything had already changed.
    But there were to be more changes.
    There is no way to tell the story of what happened with Amina without first telling the story of Mama’s sending me off. Likewise, there is no way to tell the story of Mama’s sending me off without also telling of Papa’s refusal to go to the bunker. Without his refusal, the sending away might never have occurred, and if the sending away had not occurred, then I might never have met Amina.
    If I had not met Amina, who knows, there might be no story at all to tell.
 
So, the story begins even before the story, on June 23, 1968. Ubosi chi ji ehihe jie: the day night fell in the afternoon, as the saying goes. Or as Mama sometimes puts it, the day that night overtook day: the day that Papa took his leave from us.
    It was a Sunday, but we had not gone to church that morning on account of the coming raid. The night before, the radios had announced that enemy planes would once more be on the offensive, for the next couple of days at least. It was best for anyone with any sort of common sense to stay home, Papa said. Mama agreed.
    Not far from me in the parlor, Papa sat at his desk, hunched over, his elbows on his thighs, his head resting on his fisted hands. The scent of Mama’s fried akara, all the way from the kitchen, was bursting into the parlor air.
    Papa sat with his forehead furrowed and his nose pinched, as if the sweet and spicy scent of the akara had somehow become a foul odor in the air. Next to him, his radio-gramophone. In front of him, a pile of newspapers.
    Early that morning, he had listened to the radio with its volume turned up high, as if he were hard of hearing. He had listened intently as all the voices spilled out from Radio Biafra. Even when Mama had come and asked him to turn it down, that the thing was disturbing her peace, that not everybody wanted to be reminded at every moment of the day that the country was falling apart, still he had listened to it as loudly as it would sound.
    But now the radio sat with its volume so low that all that could be heard from it was a thin static sound, a little like the scratching of skin.
 
Until the war came, Papa looked only lovingly at the radio-gramophone. He cherished it the way things that matter to us are cherished: Bibles and old photos, water and air. It was, after all, the same radio-gramophone passed down to him from his father, who had died the year I was born. All the grandparents had then followed Papa’s father’s lead—the next year, Papa’s mother passed; and the year after, and the one after that, Mama lost both her parents. Papa and Mama were only children, no siblings, which they liked to say was one of the reasons they cherished each other: that they were, aside from me, the only family they had left.
    But gone were the days of his looking lovingly at the radio-gramophone. That particular afternoon, he sat glaring at the bulky box of a thing.
    He turned to the stack of newspapers that sat above his drawing paper: about a month’s worth of the Daily Times, their pages wrinkled at the corners and the sides. He picked one up and began flipping through the pages, still with that worried look on his face.
    I went up to him at his desk, stood so close to him that I could not help but take in the smell of his Morgan’s hair pomade, the one in the yellow and red tin-capped container, which always reminded me of medicine. If only the war were some sort of illness, if only all that was needed was a little medicine.
    He replaced the newspaper he was reading on the pile. On that topmost front page were the words SAVE US. Underneath the words, a photograph of a child with an inflated belly held up by limbs as thin as rails: a kwashiorkor child, a girl who looked as if she could have been my age. She was just another Igbo girl, but she could easily have been me.
    Papa was wearing one of his old, loose-fitting sets of buba and sokoto, the color a dull green, faded from a lifetime of washes. He looked up and smiled slightly at me, a smile that was a little like a lie, lacking any emotion, but he smiled it still.
    “Kedu?” he asked.
    He drew me close, and I leaned into him, but I remained silent, unsure of how to respond. How was I?
    I could have given him the usual response to that question, just answered that I was fine, but how could anyone have been fine during those days? Only a person who was simultaneously blind and deaf and dumb, and generally senseless and unfeeling, could possibly have been fine given the situation with the war and the always-looming raids.
    Or if the person was already dead.

Meet the Author

One of Granta’s six New Voices for 2012, CHINELO OKPARANTA grew up a Jehovah’s Witness. She lived in Nigeria until the age of ten, when her family came to the United States. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she has also taught middle school, high school, and college. 

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Under the Udala Trees 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved everything about this book! So real and vivid (and at times VERY SEXY)!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Insights into the Nigerian culture: thoughts, feelings and events which leave one grieving and uplifted.
Roger More than 1 year ago
Very fluid and poignant read. Starts out strong and gets even stronger by the end. A very poignant ending.