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Camilla Gibb

Author of Sweetness in the Belly

10+ Works 1,818 Members 96 Reviews 8 Favorited

About the Author

Includes the names: Camila Gib, Camilla Gibb, Camilla Gibs

Image credit: Kevin Kelly

Works by Camilla Gibb

Associated Works

Hebbes 2 : 15 smaakmakers voor het voorjaar — Contributor — 3 copies


2007 (7) 2009 (10) 21st century (9) Africa (37) anorexia (7) art (7) book club (16) Canada (18) Canadian (66) Canadian author (25) Canadian fiction (16) Canadian literature (32) England (25) Ethiopia (86) family (20) fiction (206) Hanoi (16) historical fiction (26) Islam (46) library (9) literary fiction (9) Literature & Fiction (9) London (16) memoir (15) mental illness (14) Morocco (9) Muslim (11) non-fiction (6) novel (24) own (7) read (13) refugees (21) religion (10) sexual abuse (10) signed (8) to-read (94) unread (8) Vietnam (45) wishlist (7) women (19)

Common Knowledge

Canonical name
Gibb, Camilla



Here's what I wrote in 2009 about this read: "Interesting, educational, and full of heart. First book read about Ethiopia, and specifically the city of Harar ("4th holiest city in Islam"). Also learned more about Islam, including as learned by a Muslim white woman, orphan of English parents. Very nice!"
MGADMJK | 46 other reviews | Aug 15, 2023 |
This book is an exploration of families in two aspects. First, how does the family we had when we were young affect our choices as adults. Secondly, what does "family" mean to us as we become able to build our own lives.

Three characters drive this book. Lila, who was adopted as a child, is now a social worker who becomes inappropriately emotionally involved in the life of a young girl she is assigned to help. Her feelings about motherhood are driven by her loss of her own mother. Tess never wanted children, but her partner Emily longs for a child. Adam, their anonymous sperm donor, is a government agent recently kidnapped in Somalia as the story opens. These characters are all extremely well drawn. They are flawed, complex and so real!

This is a great story and one that has me reflecting on its themes several days after finishing the book.
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LynnB | 1 other review | Nov 12, 2022 |
Three characters, connected - though they are unaware of their connection, grapple with the definition of family.

Lila is a social worker. Adopted as a young child, she knows virtually nothing about her biological parents other than that her mother was a teenaged refugee who committed suicide two years after Lila was born. This experience of being abandoned affects her work with children whom she wants to rescue: “I’d wanted to be a mother to a child who had experienced her deepest injuries elsewhere, rather than be the one responsible for the psychic damage I would undoubtedly cause a child of my own.” Each rescue attempt becomes a “shameful mess” that almost ends her career. However, having lost both of her adoptive parents, she yearns to have a family because “What is the point of a human life unrelated to any other human life?”

Tess has never wanted to be a mother. Her career is her focus and she worries how a child would affect her: “Even in the best circumstances, I’ve seen female colleagues lose their footing on the ladder once they have children.” Tess’s partner Emily pleads, so Tess finally agrees and gives birth to Max. Tess has “no instinct for babies” so Emily does most of the child care; it is only when Max is older that she enjoys spending time with him. Then after Tess and Emily have separated, Emily announces she wants to take one of Emily’s frozen embryos to have a child, though her pregnancy would be difficult. Tess does not want to give Emily an embryo because she does not want “’to be forced to assume the psychosocial burdens that come with being a genetic parent.’” Tess believes that being a parent tore apart her family.

Adam is the anonymous donor whose sperm is used by Tess. When he was young, he donated sperm to help pay his way through graduate school. He has no desire to be a father: “He sees himself as someone who simply went some small way toward helping people who wanted to become parents. And they helped him by paying him for a supply of something he has wasted plenty of in his life.” As the novel opens, Adam is being held captive by al-Shabaab in Somalia. Will the experience lead him “to want something more permanent? A home, a family’”?

The novel examines how lack of a stable family can affect people. Much of Lila, Tess and Adam’s feelings about family are a result of their childhood experiences. Lila’s early years were unstable; she didn’t form “a secure attachment” to her mother and was abandoned. Tess’s mother suffered with severe anxiety and depression so Tess was raised by her father and “protected” from her mother. Adam’s father committed suicide so he doesn’t even think of him as his father because “’A father is a man who is present in your life.’” Adam doesn’t think the world needs more children when so many are not cared for: “China is all over East Africa now, in mining and infrastructure, creating a generation of fatherless half-Chinese Africans who are being neglected and shunned. We’re such sloppy creatures, men, he thinks. What is the point of us? To just keep producing children? But we don’t even take care of the ones we have.”

The message, however, is that people can move past any deficiencies in the families to which they were born and create their own families which meet their needs. A woman who “wanted to be found by a mother. Remembered, longed for, searched for, found” can be a good mother to a child and so heal herself. A person can build “a sense of community” around a child and so create a family of sorts. Even the various children of a common sperm donor can construct a type of family: “children conceived with the same sperm . . . might one day be curious about or even known to each other” so no one knows “the kind of circles that start to form as a result of its dissemination.” I came across a comment by Camilla Gibb in a Chatelaine interview which I think summarizes the theme of this novel: “family is a feeling between people more than it is an arrangement” (https://www.chatelaine.com/living/books/camilla-gibb-heartbreak-family/).

Characterization is outstanding. All the main characters are complex and flawed. There are times when the reader will disapprove or disagree with choices made by Lila, Tess, and Adam, but it is always possible to understand why they behave as they do. I found much of my interest lay in watching these three people learn and grow.

There is much to like about this book. The believable, complicated characters have very different but interesting stories which give the reader much to ponder.

Note: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

Please check out my reader's blog (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski).
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Schatje | 1 other review | Mar 22, 2021 |
A fictional look at life after the war and currently in Vietnam through the memory of a soup maker. It made you think of how much a person can do to make life bearable and how important relationships are for living.
kshydog | 31 other reviews | Dec 13, 2020 |



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