Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta review
Civil war rages in Ojoto, Nigeria in 1968, causing a mother to send her daughter to stay with relations. Having already lost her father in the war, 11-year-old Ijeoma struggles to settle with her distant aunt and uncle. The arrival of a young girl, Amina, brings friendship and a sexual coming-of-age. When their affair is discovered, Ijeoma returns in disgrace to her mother, who sets about cleansing her daughter’s soul with Bible lessons. More warden than mother, to Ijeoma she is “more an emblem of motherhood than motherhood itself”. A culture of sexual and gender oppression is vividly examined by the Nigerian author who has won the O Henry Prize and Lambda Award for her short stories. At times preachy in tone, her debut novel yet offers a memorable, evocative account of a woman’s fight to assert her identity in a country that scorns her.