Sweetness in the Belly

Sweetness in the Belly

eBook - 2006
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Lilly, the main character of Camilla Gibb's stunning new novel, has anything but a stable childhood. The daughter of English/Irish hippies, she was "born in Yugoslavia, breast-fed in the Ukraine, weaned in Corsica, freed from nappies in Sicily and walking by the time [they] got to the Algarve..." The family's nomadic adventure ends in Tangier when Lilly's parents are killed in a drug deal gone awry. Orphaned at eight, Lilly is left in the care of a Sufi sheikh, who shows her the way of Islam through the Qur'an. When political turmoil erupts, Lilly, now sixteen, is sent to the ancient walled city of Harar, Ethiopia, where she stays in a dirt-floored compound with an impoverished widow named Nouria and her four children.

In Harar, Lilly earns her keep by helping with the household chores and teaching local children the Qur'an. Ignoring the cries of "farenji" (foreigner), she slowly begins to put down roots, learning the language and immersing herself in a culture rich in customs and rituals and lush with glittering bright headscarves, the chorus of muezzins and the scent of incense and coffee. She is drawn to an idealistic half-Sudanese doctor named Aziz, and the two begin to meet every Saturday at a social gathering. As they stay behind to talk, Lilly finds her faith tested for the first time in her life: "The desire to remain in his company overwhelmed common sense; I would pick up my good Muslim self on the way home." Just as their love begins to blossom, they are wrenched apart when the aging emperor Haile Selassie is deposed by the brutal Dergue regime. Lilly seeks exile in London, while Aziz stays to pursue his revolutionary passions.

In London, Lilly's life as a white Muslim is no less complicated. A hospital staff nurse, she befriends a refugee from Ethiopia named Amina, whose daughter she helped to deliver in a back alley. The two women set up a community association to re-unite refugees with lost family members. Their work, however, isn't entirely altruistic. Both women are looking for someone: Amina, her husband, Yusuf, and Lilly, Aziz, who remains firmly, painfully, implanted in her heart.

The first-person narrative alternates seamlessly between England (1981-91) and Ethiopia (1970-74), weaving a rich tapestry of one woman's quest to maintain faith and love through revolution, upheaval and the alienation of life in exile.

Sweetness in the Belly was universally praised for the tremendous empathy that Gibb brings to an ambitious story. Kirkus Reviews writes that the novel "reflect(s) the pain, cultural relocation and uncertainty of tribal, political and religious refugees the world over. Gibb's territory is urgently modern and controversial but she enters it softly, with grace, integrity and a lovely compassionate story. [It is a] poem to belief and to the displaced-humane, resonant, original, impressive." According to the Literary Review of Canada, Sweetness in the Belly is "...a novel that is culturally sensitive, consummately researched and deeply compassionate...richly imagined, full of sensuous detail and arresting imagery...Gibb has smuggled Western readers into the centre of lives they might never otherwise come into contact with, let alone understand."
Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, 2006
ISBN: 9780307373342
0307373347
Characteristics: 1 online resource

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t
tlvanapeldoorn
Mar 14, 2017

Story is about a refugee coming to Canada from Somalia. Gives a good prospective of differences with in the muslim religion. A young white british women is orphaned due to her hippie parents being murdered . She is adopted and brought up as a Sufi Muslim in Morocco.
When she moves to Harar, Ethiopia ( stricter muslim area) she is called a ferungi a foreigner . Despite being brought up as a devout Muslim she is seen as a white women.
She eventually has to leave Harar due to her political affiliation with a deposed, corrupt emperor. She moves to London , England in the 1980's . She once again experiences racial prejudices on many levels.. It is written in a poetic fashion.
A very good read.

l
Lynsey26
Feb 08, 2017

Beautifully crafted.

g
GLNovak
Oct 04, 2016

This is an interesting angle from which to view Islam. Lilly is English but raised as a Muslim first in Morocco and then in Ethiopia after her parents die in a car crash. We first meet her as an adult in London where she works as a nurse, and maintains her religious faith through friendships in the immigrant community. The author entwines the story of her upbringing and life before England with the present day. We see her learning to be a Muslim, and in the here and now staying true to that heritage, all the while functioning in the nonreligious English environment . Her steadfast belief in her future reunification with her Ethiopian love is amazing. The writing kept me reading and kept me liking and hoping that Lilly would be happy.

h
HAMURCHISON
Dec 26, 2015

Well written book that provides a small glimpse at Ethiopia and it's more recent history.

WVMLStaffPicks Jan 22, 2015

A truly wonderful novel set in the traumatized refugee communities and grim housing estates of Thatcher's London, where Lilly, a white Muslim nurse, grieves the people she left behind in the chaos and civil unrest of Ethiopia. Deeply committed to the faith she adopted after her ex-pat, hippie parents were killed in Morocco, the rootless Lilly had just begun to find a sense of home in Harar when she was forced to abandon the city and her nascent love affair with Aziz, a political young doctor, for a lonely exile in England.

s
sari
Feb 02, 2014

An incredible story about a young girl of British ancestry ,raised as a Muslim .
The insights about Africa and Muslim history which Gibbs has weaved into a love story showcases the authors gifts.
Shortlisted for a Giller Prize .

m
maghennicole
Sep 24, 2013

Couldn't put it down. Amazing book, extremely well written. The definition of a page-turner.

WVMLBookClubTitles Jun 22, 2013

Deeply committed to the faith she adopted after her ex-pat, hippie parents were killed in Morocco, the rootless Lilly had just begun to find a sense of home in Harar when she was forced to abandon the city and her nascent love affair with a politically minded young doctor for a lonely exile in England. Living among traumatized refugees in London’s grim housing estates, Lilly, a white Muslim nurse, grieves the people she left behind in the chaos and civil unrest of Ethiopia.

m
miaone
Sep 10, 2012

Near the top of my Best Books list is Sweetness in the Belly. I've re-read it several times; it has enriched my life.

v
vwruleschick
May 28, 2012

Follow Lilly and her English hippie parents through their travels in Africa. While all this nomadic tendencies was making Lilly to want something of substance and stability. She finds her love to Islam (the Qu'ran) and her new life in Morocca after her parents are killed. Then on to Ethiopia where she is put in situations where only an outsider belongs. See how she overcomes her challenges and still hangs on her life when transplanted back to England. But will she ever find her 'Sweetness in the Belly' again?

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