18 Classics of LGBTQ Literature

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Under the Udala Trees cover (Image via Granta)

5. Under the Udala Trees

Under the Udala Trees starts off with tragedy. In the 1967 Biafran War (also known as the Nigerian Civil War), Igbo people tried to secede from Nigeria. They wished to establish their own republic, Biafra. As you may already know, such a movement was unsuccessful, leading to 100,000 military casualties and 500,000 to 2 million total civilian deaths from starvation.

Ijeoma, the protagonist of Under the Udala Trees, does not succumb to this famine, though she is a child during the war. However, her family is devastated by its effects nonetheless. Her father refuses to hide in a bomb shelter and so is killed during an air raid. Her mother is destroyed by the death of her husband and is incapable of caring for her young daughter.

Ijeoma is sent to another town, where she works as a housekeeper for a schoolteacher. There, she meets Amina, her first love. Though Amina returns her affections, the two are soon discovered. Ijeoma’s mother returns to take her daughter home, at first not understanding what the problem is. After she’s fully convinced of her daughter’s supposed sinful behavior, Mama attempts to convince her that her sexuality is wrong, using Bible passages to argue her point.

Though Ijeoma’s sexuality does not change, she is convinced that she cannot survive in Nigerian society without concealing her inner self. She even goes to far as to enter into marriage with a man. The union, however, is marred by sullenness and depression. Despite such considerable roadblocks, Ijeoma must learn how to live her truest life in a deeply conservative culture.