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Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb

Sweetness in the Belly

by Camilla Gibb

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8514310,545 (3.78)1 / 74
Title:Sweetness in the Belly
Authors:Camilla Gibb
Collections:CF (Canadian Fiction), Your library
Tags:CF GIB, England, historical fiction, Islam

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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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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 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 43 (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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