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Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb
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Sweetness in the Belly

by Camilla Gibb

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8774415,469 (3.78)1 / 81
  1. 00
    Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (Ciruelo)
    Ciruelo: Both novels have a medical focus and are set in Ethiopia. The main characters in each novel were orphaned at an early age and each spent their childhoods in a religious setting.
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Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
Love the premise but the delivery just fell flat for me. A tad too erudite. I kept feeling that I was in the classroom, receiving a lesson on human diaspora, and that just kept pulling me away from the more intimate, personal story on offer. Don't get me wrong, Gibb obviously is highly educated and has done her research, but sometimes I just want to experience a story. Yes, through Lilly, a reader becomes exposed to an interesting cross-cultural perspective as Lilly finds herself being defined as a farenji (foreigner) in Harar because of her white skin, while back in London she does not identify with the English Caucasian community. From that perspective, Lilly is very much a woman who, culturally, identifies more with a nation that clearly views her a not one of their own kind. I should also mention that the story does contain some disturbing descriptions, like the genital mutilation of young girls, that were rather difficult to read.

Overall, I found that the continual messaging of messages of ethnicity and identity seemed to stifle the story, to the point where I was unable to make any kind of reader connection with any of the characters. Favorite quote (and a good humanity lesson of the story for all):"For all the brutality that is inflicted upon us, we still possess the desire to be polite to strangers. We may have blackened eyes, but we still insist on brushing our hair. We may have had our toes shot off by a nine-year-old, but we still believe in the innocence of children. We may have been raped, repeatedly, by two men in a Kenyan refugee camp, but we still open ourselves to the ones we love. We may have lost everything, but we still insist on being generous and sharing the little that remains. We still have dreams." ( )
  lkernagh | Oct 21, 2018 |
Lilly's parents are English and Irish, and they travel the world with her, living a hippie life. As a result of their choices, she grows up in Morocco and Ethiopia in the 1970s. She also has the rare distinction of being a white Muslim in those African countries. Then Ethiopia becomes an unstable country, and Lilly is forced to return to England. The novel moves us back and forth through time periods and locations, getting to know Lilly, the people around her, and her life.

This is one of my favorite reads of the year so far. A solid five stars for writing, story, and for Lilly herself. Not too far along in the story, I was doing the math to see how old she was compared to me. I was thinking about my childhood friends who grew up in Ethiopia because their parents were missionaries. And most of all, I was trying to find more time to read this book.

Lilly is resilient but entirely human. She believes in herself, despite constantly being questioned by the Africans around her. I'm in awe of the inner strength this character had to make her way in a tangled, insecure world.

Lilly's story also taught me about the life of refugees. How you feel when you look for someone you love day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out. You never know if they are ignoring you, or unable to find you too. She finds a family of choice and a community in London, but in her heart she's still African and Ethiopian, and follows those traditions as much as possible.

The author presents a picture of Islam that includes the many gods of Ethiopian traditions. It's not an orthodox Islamic perspective, based on what the characters say as well as the author's afterword. It's a fictional account, although it stirs up controversy among reviewers as to whether it should be closer to their version of accuracy. To me, the importance of including the depth of Lilly's devotion to the Islam she was taught is what it tells us about her character.

As much as it's titled "sweetness," this is a bittersweet and moving book. ( )
  TheBibliophage | Mar 20, 2018 |
This is one of those books that seep into your soul. I really didn't want it to end and, yet, I wanted to know what happened to the characters. This book certainly deserves its place on CBC's 100 Novels that Make you Proud to be Canadian. There will be people who quibble with that because no-one in the book is Canadian, no action takes place in Canada and Canada is mentioned tangentially only two times that I can think of. It qualifies as Canadian because Camilla Gibb lives in Toronto although she was born in England. She spent time in Ethiopia doing research for her Ph. D. in social anthropology and that work forms the basis for this book.

Lilly is English by birth and white but she was raised by a Sufi teacher in Morocco and she has adopted the Muslim faith. Her teacher decided it was to dangerous in Morocco and so he sent her and another student, Hussein, to Harar in Ethiopia because the saint he worshiped had a descendent who ran a mosque in Harar. When they finally reached Harar, a journey of months by camel, they went immediately to Sheikh Jami who would not accept Lilly into his household but he did accept Hussein. Lilly was taken by one of the Sheikh's wives to a poor relative who could use the income Lilly would provide. Nouria had four children, no husband and survived by taking in washing. Lilly didn't actually have much money to give her but she started a school to teach neighbourhood children the Qu'ran. Even though she was a "farenji" (a foreigner) Lilly gradually came to be accepted by the neighbourhood women. There were some things that Lilly could not accept though. Most girls in Ethiopia had a clitorectomy to ensure their purity for marriage. Lilly witnessed Nouria's two young girls undergoing this barbaric practice and was appalled. One of the girls became very ill and finally a doctor was summoned. Aziz was able to save the girl and, over time, he and Lilly became friends and more. The government was still run by Emperor Haile Selassie at the time. Aziz and some friends wanted a socialist upheaval in Ethiopia but instead what they got was a bloody civil war. Lilly left Ethiopia and went to live in England where she became a nurse. She could not let go of wanting to get word of Aziz. In 1981 Lilly helped an Ethiopian refugee from Harar, Amina, give birth. Lilly and Amina became neighbours and good friends. More refugees were coming to England from Ethiopia so the two started an office to assist them, especially in reconnecting with their families. Amina had been separated from her husband in a refugee camp and was always searching the lists for his name. Similarily, Lilly was always looking for Aziz's name. One of them was rewarded.

I have gone to school and worked with a number of Ethiopians. I am quite sure they were all Christian and so this story of the Muslims in Harar was an eye-opener. They seem to be so contradictory; girls are genitally mutilated but parents were supportive of them being educated, especially in learning the Qu'ran. Women covered themselves in veils but quite often the veils were colourful and diaphanous. Marriages were arranged but it was the groom's parents who paid a dowry. So, so interesting. ( )
1 vote gypsysmom | Apr 16, 2017 |
Lilly,is a English born devote Muslim woman raised in Ethiopia by a Quran specialist after her hippie parents die. She embraces that life although she is always a foreigner . She winds up in Harar living with Muslim woman and embraces their traditions living by the word of the Quran until she falls for a local doctor. the novel moves between Harar and England where Lilly must flee when the Emperor is dethroned and the corrupt world of Haile Selassie exposed.
The political and religious unrest is real and we live it through the very real voice of Lilly who is really quite innocent and non judgemental. ( )
  Smits | Apr 8, 2017 |
Beautifully written. Camilla Gibb intimately portrays the lives of her characters with nuance and warmth. ( )
  csoki637 | Nov 27, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
In her third novel, Camilla Gibb takes readers to the often overlooked country of Ethiopia. Gibb intertwines a story of exile in Thatcher’s London with a past pious existence in Haile Selassie’s politically unstable Ethiopia to create a dynamic tapestry of one woman’s life.

Gibb challenges the reader by presenting a protagonist who is difficult to identify with, and not always likeable. Despite her annoying self-righteousness, Lilly’s struggle with her human flaws authenticates her character. Amina balances Lilly’s bitter rigidity, as she flirtatiously flounces around in her tartan skirt. Lilly embodies the many contradictions of love, religion, science, and culture, as she tries to embrace an openness that allows these elements to coexist.

The novel offers many insights on religion, race, and exile. Through the white figure of Lilly, Gibb deculturalizes Islam and reveals the vibrant possibilities it affords – a fact often forgotten in today’s political landscape. From the unpacked boxes in the homes of Ethiopian refugees to Lilly’s stubborn hold on the past, readers see that exile is often based on the myth of return. And racism is ubiquitous, even within the non-colonized walls of Harar.

Gibb balances this heaviness with lush imagery that transports the reader to Lilly’s world. The “glittering … bright head scarves and beaded shawls” in the city of Harar dazzle the reader, the “staggered chorus of muezzins” is a loud awakening, and the smell of incense and sweat in Lilly’s secret meetings with Aziz is hypnotic. Gibb also presents social commentary through humour. However, these few instances of clever wit leave the reader wanting more.

All of these details of a most unusual place and story weave a human tapestry of love, loss, and survival. This “outsider’s struggle to assert a place … and the euphoric, if fleeting, sense of peace in finding one” leaves the reader with a sweetness that comes from something fresh and new.

added by VivienneR | editQuill & Quire, Prasanthi Vasanthakumar (Jan 18, 2014)
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0143038729, Paperback)

Like Brick Lane and The Kite Runner, Camilla Gibb’s widely praised new novel is a poignant and intensely atmospheric look beyond the stereotypes of Islam. After her hippie British parents are murdered, Lilly is raised at a Sufi shrine in Morocco. As a young woman she goes on pilgrimage to Harar, Ethiopia, where she teaches Qur’an to children and falls in love with an idealistic doctor. But even swathed in a traditional headscarf, Lilly can’t escape being marked as a foreigner. Forced to flee Ethiopia for England, she must once again confront the riddle of who she is and where she belongs.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:15 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

"After her hippie British parents are murdered, Lilly is raised at a Sufi shrine in Morocco. As a young woman she goes on pilgrimage to Harar, Ethiopia, where she teaches Qur'an to children and falls in love with an idealistic doctor. But even swathed in a traditional headscarf, Lilly can't escape being marked as a foreigner. Forced to flee Ethiopia for England, she must once again confront the riddle of who she is and where she belongs." -- Amazon.com… (more)

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