Kathmandu/Pahichan – Chinelo Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees has been listed as one of the 25 most impactful works of LGBTQ literature in the last twenty years. The list, compiled by The New York Timesunder the title “20 Years of L.G.B.T.Q. Lit: A Timeline,” includes such LGBTQ classics and crowd favourites as James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, Larry Kramer’s Faggots, David Ebershoff’s The Danish Girl, Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty, Colm Toibin’s The Master, and Hana Yanagihara’s A Little Life.
Published in 2015, Under the Udala Trees is Chinelo’s first novel and second book of fiction. Beginning during the brutal Biafran war in Nigeria, the novel follows a young woman as she navigates her sexuality in a world suffocated by religion and expectations. A finalist for the 2017 International Dublin Literary Award, it won the 2016 LAMBDA Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction and earned Chinelo a place on Granta‘s prestigious 2017 list of the Best of Young American Novelists.
The novel was further nominated for the 2015 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work of Fiction and longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, it appeared on many lists: NPR’s Best Books of 2015, the Los Angeles Times 56 Fabulous Works of Fiction and Poetry for the Holidays, the Wall Street Journal‘s 15 Books to Read This Fall, The Millions Most Anticipated Reads for 2015, The Root‘s 15 Powerful Works of Fiction by Black Authors in 2015, Autostraddle‘s Top 10 Queer and Feminist Books of 2015, Cosmopolitan Magazine’s 24 Books to Read This Fall, and Gawker‘s 9 Must-Reads for Fall.
Here is a description by its publishers.
Inspired by Nigeria’s folktales and its war, Under the Udala Trees is a deeply searching, powerful debut about the dangers of living and loving openly.
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.
When their love is discovered, Ijeoma learns that she will have to hide this part of herself. But there is a cost to living inside a lie.
As Edwidge Danticat has made personal the legacy of Haiti’s political coming of age, Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees uses one woman’s lifetime to examine the ways in which Nigerians continue to struggle toward selfhood. Even as their nation contends with and recovers from the effects of war and division, Nigerian lives are also wrecked and lost from taboo and prejudice. This story offers a glimmer of hope — a future where a woman might just be able to shape her life around truth and love.
Acclaimed by Vogue, the Financial Times, and many others, Chinelo Okparanta continues to distill “experience into something crystalline, stark but lustrous” (New York Times Book Review). Under the Udala Trees marks the further rise of a star whose “tales will break your heart open” (New York Daily News).
Chinelo’s first book of fiction is the 2013 short story collection Happiness, Like Water, which also won the LAMBDA Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction in 2014.
This recognition is of huge importance and is timely in this period when writers of LGBTQ literature are coming under persecution in her home country of Nigeria which has an anti-gay law prescribing 14 years in jail for perceived offenders. Having famously declared herself “an activist and an artist” at the 2016 Ake Book and Arts Festival, Chinelo’s prioritization of activism in her art isn’t where her impact ends. Using her position, she continues to do astonishing underground work for persecuted LGBTQ artists in her home country Nigeria.
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