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Under the Udala Trees

This first novel from Chinelo Okparanta (after the story collection Happiness, Like Water) throws into sharp relief the historical and continuing struggles of the LGBTQ population of Nigeria, reminding us that gay rights are a global battleground.

After Ijeoma's father dies during the Nigerian civil war in 1968, she is sent to live with a grammar school teacher and his wife while Ijeoma's mother returns to her parents' village, promising to send for her. Weeks, then months, pass without any summons. While she waits, Ijeoma becomes a de facto servant to her hosts, but her lot is lightened when she rescues an orphaned girl her age, Amina. Although Amina belongs to the Hausa--her people were on the opposite side of the war from Ijeoma's--the teacher and his wife grudgingly agree to let her stay. The girls play together, work side by side and share a bed. Soon their friendship blossoms into first love, but when their feelings are discovered, they face severe consequences.

Though understandably filled with sorrow, Ijeoma's life also reflects a spirit so strong even its owner cannot break it. Tragedy and oppression shape her path, but her inarguable sense of self and her longing to experience great love make turning away from Okparanta's heroine impossible. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads