The protagonist of this meditative and elegantly written novel represents an unusual demographic. White, English, and orphaned at eight, Lilly grows up in Morocco as a Muslim, moves to Harar, Ethiopia, for five years and settles in London after political upheaval makes her vulnerable in Harar. A stranger everywhere, she has a knack for making homes and building communities anywhere: as a valued teacher of the Qur'an to Harari children, and as friend and nurse to Ethiopian exiles in London. "You put roots and they'll start growing," her bohemian parents told her to justify their nomadic ways. But grown-up Lilly actively seeks roots and relationships, agonizing over the uprootings that famine, corruption, and political instability made inevitable for Ethiopians in the 1970s and '80s. Her narrative shuttles between two cosmopolitan cities, two tumultuous decades, and two significant others. Aziz is an Ethiopian doctor she falls for in Harar but is wrenched away from literally (perhaps too literally) after giving him her virginity. Dr. Gupta is an Indian whose courtship of her in London is handicapped by the flame she still holds for Aziz. Not knowing if the latter is alive or dead, Lilly has remained suspended in a 17-year limbo between grief and desperate hope.
Sweetness in the Belly is obviously not your average doctor-and-nurse story. Indeed, Gibbs's aim is to portray a largely invisible society. Ethiopia, Lilly says, is just "a starving impoverished nation ... of famine and refugees" in the Western imagination. Steeped in research but wearing it lightly, the novel renders a culture and dozens of people convincingly (though the parallel story lines make keeping characters straight a challenge). Lilly, with her religious fervour, multiple languages, and basic decency, is a believable insider and appealing consciousness. The self-protective emotional coolness of her London self, however, casts a shadow over the Harar narrative, where a contrasting tone could have conveyed her youthful optimism and passion. One might also wish the political back-story of famine and Haile Selassie's fall were more integrated into the plot; Gibb seems as keen to protect characters as they are to protect each other, sacrificing opportunities for drama and suspense. But these are small flaws in a precise, textured, suitably bittersweet novel. --John C. Ball --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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. (Mar. 20)
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Despite the traumatic and violent true historical events movingly featured in this excellent novel, there is a sense that love is as perennial as the grass. Read morePublished 14 months ago by Eleanor Cowan
It is really frightening how little we know about Ethiopia. Well written, great characters. Thank you for this story to enlighten my life.Published 18 months ago by Masadoon
Well written, would recommend it to anyone wanting to understand this culture. Easy to read and keeps the reader involved.Published on Aug. 1 2013 by Elva Sullivan
Title: Sweetness in the Belly
Author: Camilla Gibb
Publisher: Anchor Canada
Source: Personal Copy
Synopsis:... Read more
I loved this book!! Although the story was largely centered around the Harari religion I did not feel bogged down in technical language or description. Read morePublished on March 23 2009 by BigJspice
Set primarily in Ethiopia during the 1980s famine, protagonist Lily, or the "farenji" (the white European) tries to stay true to her Muslim faith while falling in love with the... Read morePublished on Aug. 18 2008 by Amy
This is the sort of information we in the West need to know; we're woefully ignorant about the history, culture, and politics of most areas of the globe but particularly those... Read morePublished on Nov. 12 2006 by Ballymuck
this was a marvelous book. i was immediately sucked into gibb's narrative universe, from the sensational description of the hyaena sunrise on the first page. Read morePublished on June 16 2006 by Beijde