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Sweetness in the Belly
Synopses & Reviews
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 whiteMuslim 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.
From the Hardcover edition.
"With sure-handed, urgent prose, Gibb (The Petty Details of So-and-So's Life) chronicles the remarkable spiritual and geographical journey of a white British Muslim woman who struggles with cultural contradictions to find community and love. Lilly Abdal, orphaned at age eight after the murder of her hippie British parents, grows up at an Islamic shrine in Morocco. The narrative alternates between Harar, Ethiopia, in the 1970s, where she moved in pilgrimage at age 16, and London, England, in the '80s, where she lives in exile from Africa, working as a nurse. Ignoring the cries of 'farenji,' or foreigner, she starts a religious Muslim school in Harar. Later, in London, along with her friend Amina, Lilly runs a community association for family reunification of Ethiopian refugees. Each month, she reads the list of people who've escaped famine and the brutal Dergue regime, hoping to find Dr. Aziz Abdulnasser, her half-Sudanese lover who chose Africa over their relationship. Despite some predictability of plot, the novel fluently speaks the 'languages of religion and exile,' depicting both the multifaceted heartbreak of those lucky enough to escape violent regime changes and the beauty of unlikely bonds created by the modern multicultural world." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
From the award-winning and bestselling author of "Sweetness in the Belly"comes a richly imagined narrative of one woman's search for love and belonging cast against a nuanced portrait of political upheaval.
Bestselling author Gibb's political history alternates between the unsettled brutal regimes ruling Ethiopia in the 1970s and the harshness of British bigotry in the 1980s, while detailing the grim effects of the Ethiopian diaspora on ordinary people.
From award-winning and bestselling author Camilla Gibb comes a richly imagined narrative of one woman's search for love and belonging cast against a nuanced portrait of political upheaval.
In the racially charged world of Thatcher's London, Lilly, a young, white, Muslim nurse, struggles in a state of invisible exile. As Ethiopian refugees gradually begin to fill the flats of the housing estate where she lives, she begins to share her longing for a home in that distant land and her heartbreaking search for her missing lover, Aziz.
Gibb takes us on a journey back to Haile Selassie's Ethiopia, and tells the remarkable story of Lilly's discovery of an unexpected place for herself within the walls of the ancient city of Harar, a revered centre of Islam, unique in its language, customs and beliefs. As her roots in the place deepen so too does her clandestine relationship with the young Dr. Aziz. But Ethiopia is veering toward revolution, and hope for a future with Aziz is dramatically threatened when the country is thrown into political turmoil.
A psychologically complex and utterly convincing story, alive with political insight and sensuous detail, Sweetness in the Belly is a mesmerizing work from one of Canada's most distinctive and exciting voices.
"From the Hardcover edition.
Like Brick Lane and The Kite Runner, Camilla Gibbs 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 Quran to children and falls in love with an idealistic doctor. But even swathed in a traditional headscarf, Lilly cant 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.
About the Author
Camilla Gibb was born in London, England, and grew up in Toronto. She has a Ph.D. in social anthropology from Oxford University for which she conducted fieldwork in Ethiopia. Her two previous novels, Mouthing the Words, winner of the City of Toronto Book Award in 2000, and The Petty Details of So-and-So's Life, have been published in eighteen countries and translated into fourteen languages, receiving rave reviews all around the world. She is one of twenty-one writers on the Orange Futures List—a list of young writers to watch, compiled by the jury of the prestigious Orange Prize. Camilla lives in Toronto, where she serves as vice president of PEN Canada and is currently writerin-residence at the University of Toronto.
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