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Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb

Sweetness in the Belly

by Camilla Gibb

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
8374110,767 (3.79)1 / 73
Title:Sweetness in the Belly
Authors:Camilla Gibb
Collections:CF (Canadian Fiction), Your library
Tags:CF GIB, England, historical fiction, Islam

Work details

Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb

  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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Beautifully written. Camilla Gibb intimately portrays the lives of her characters with nuance and warmth. ( )
  csoki637 | Nov 27, 2016 |
While living in Morocco, Lilly, the child of a couple of nudist hippies was orphaned and left to be brought up in a Sufi mosque there, later fleeing to Ethiopia. Even though a devout Muslim, she was always denigrated as a "farenji" (foreigner) because she was white. When eventually she went to live in London, her accent and religion again labelled her a foreigner. This was a close look at Muslim society and culture in Ethiopia, including a detailed account of the barbaric practice of female circumcision. The people of London did not fare any better, displaying just as much intolerance. Gibb has obviously done her research (she lived for a year with a Muslim family in their compound in Harar, Ethiopia). Although the theme of ethnicity, displacement, and identity are the essence of this story, I found the characters remained oddly unlikeable. I expected a book about Muslim women as refugees but instead learned more about the restrictions of Islam. The dreamy, pensive, reflective style of writing does not appeal to me, and despite attempts to keep the text lyrical, the topic romantic, Gibb, the academic, has written a book that is more ethnography than novel. ( )
1 vote VivienneR | Aug 29, 2016 |
Lilly, the English child of two hippies who wander through Africa and Asia, is raised and educated by Abdal, a beloved Islamic scholar and her guardian Muhammed Bruce Mahmoud, English convert to Islam and friend of her parents, visits and provides English books and gifts.

When the political situation changes Abdal sends Lilly on pilgrimage to Harar, Ethiopia for safety. Lilly lives with widowed Nouria and her 4 children. It takes years for Lilly, the white "farengi" to become somewhat socially accepted. She learns the language, helps with housework and child care, and soon teaches Quran to the children, and is paid to teach the neighbors' children as well.

Always a keen student as well as a committed Muslim, so when Lilly meets Aziz he opens her mind with knowledge of the medical field he practices and his understanding of politics. They have enlightening conversations about how his liberal view on religion differs from her view but do agree on some like their abhorrence of female circumcision. But once again, when life in Ethiopia changes for the worse Aziz sends Lilly to England.

Now a nurse and social worker, Lilly, lives among the Islamic immigrant community in London's council housing, and now it’s the English who curse and bully her for being Muslim. While her life is busy helping to care for bewildered immigrants acclimate to England, like many of them, her heart has remained in Ethiopia.

Sweetness in the Belly is an extraordinary tale of the sorrow and pain caused by shifting history, military regimes, and religion. And it deals with living as an “outsider” and finding a community, a home, acceptance and love. ( )
  Bookish59 | Apr 23, 2016 |
“My body is a whisper where hers is a shout” p 26.
Abandoned it by about page 120. Too much vague gauzy stuff, with spiritual I-wanna-understand squishiness. ( )
  TheBookJunky | Apr 22, 2016 |
3.5 stars

Lilly was born to an English father and an Irish mother, but her parents were nomads of a sort, so she grew up in Morocco, at least until both parents died. From there, the person who was taking care of her brought her to Ethiopia. This was the 1970s, before a revolution in that country. In the 1980s, Lilly is living in London, England, along with an Ethiopian friend. The two of them are helping Ethiopian refugees find family, friends, and relatives, and both hope to one day find and be reunited with the man they each love.

It was good. I mostly didn't like Lilly, though, especially in the 1980s as she pined away for Aziz so many years later and wouldn't let anyone else in (nor did she even decorate her apartment...she just couldn't move on). I had a bit of trouble getting “into” the book at first, though. It was a bit tricky, also at first, as the narrative jumped back and forth between Ethiopia in the 70s and London in the 80s, as I tried to follow along and figure out who everyone was. Overall, though, the story still turned out to be a good one. ( )
  LibraryCin | Sep 13, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 41 (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)

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"When Lilly is eight years old, her pot-smoking hippie British parents leave her at a Sufi shrine in Morocco and inform her they will be back to collect her in three days. Three weeks later, she learns they've been murdered. Lilly fills that haunted hollow in her life with the intense study of the Qur'an under the watchful eye of the saint's disciple she was entrusted to. Years later, her journey from Morocco to Harar, Ethiopia, is half pilgrimage, half flight. In Harar, even her traditional Muslim head scarves cannot hide her white skin in her strange new surroundings; the word farenji - foreigner - is hissed at her at every turn. She eventually builds a life for herself teaching children the Qur'an, and she finds herself falling in love with an idealistic young doctor. But the two are wrenched apart when Lilly is again forced to flee, this time to London. Despite her British roots, Lilly discovers she is as much of an outsider in London as she was in Harar."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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