- Paperback: 432 pages
- Publisher: Anchor Canada (Feb. 14 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385660189
- ISBN-13: 978-0385660181
- Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.8 x 20.3 cm
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 Kg
- Average Customer Review: 19 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #76,517 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Sweetness in the Belly Paperback – Feb 14 2006
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One of Amazon.ca's Best Books of 2005
Winner of the Trillium Book Award
A Scotiabank Giller Prize Finalist
A Globe and Mail Top 100 Book of 2005
“Sweetness in the Belly is a timely and compelling novel of ideas which explores the ethics of cultural identity in a multicultural era. . . . [It] is a sophisticated, ambitious and deeply affecting novel which is devastatingly relevant to our contemporary world.”
–2005 Scotiabank Giller Prize jury citation
“Gibb’s Africa is finely crafted, as is her delicate rendering of the complexities of Ethiopian society. . . . The book rings true.”
“This complex tale about exile, romance and human rights combines the authority of Gibb’s scholarship on social anthropology with the lushness of her fictional vision.”
"Ambitious . . . vivid and rich in detail, politically relevant and eminently readable."
—The Globe and Mail
"This is a rarity, a novel that transforms expectations. A hugely ambitious work executed with deceptive ease, it is an unbelievably odd tale, yet utterly convincing, able to transport us behind closed borders and back again. . . . The back-and-forth structure succeeds brilliantly . . . With Sweetness in the Belly, you know something other than lived experience is at work, and that something is a roving mind, a questing heart. Watching them land like butterflies on raw truth is a marvellous sight to behold."
—The Gazette (Montreal)
"A marvellous, highly absorbing read bound to strike up conversations at award time."
"Full of life and keen observation of women and how they rise above the terrible things that can happen to them, how they form communities, how they find strength to begin again. This may be Lilly’s story, but behind her stands the larger story of her Muslim friends. They are what make the novel so extraordinary, so rich."
"Camilla Gibb’s integration of history and fiction in Sweetness and the Belly is superb. . . . Gibb’s crowning achievement is a knack for creating believable historical characters. Characters whose credibility is anchored by the convincing commonplace of their lives."
—Winnipeg Free Press
“A wonderful feat of imagination and empathy. I had to suppress bitter feelings of literary envy, even as I couldn't stop devouring it.”
—Louis de Bernières
“Sweetness in the Belly is a deeply imagined immersion into the lives of people for whom war, poverty, marginalization and exile are the commonplace trials. Gibb’s understanding of this world seems almost uncanny but it is her compassion for her characters that impressed me the most. Here is a novel that challenges and disturbs as it enlightens and uplifts. A really exceptional achievement.”
“With Sweetness in the Belly, Camilla Gibb offers persuasive testimony about her ambition as a novelist. . . . This novel is impressive for its geographic and thematic broadness alone. Gibb makes it that much more remarkable with the careful attention she gives to the psychology of belonging.”
—The Vancouver Sun
Praise for the work of Camilla Gibb:
"Camilla Gibb is surely one of the most talented writers around. . . . She can do funny, she can do sad, she can do sex. I suspect that there is little this wonderful woman cannot do."
—The Times (London)
"If you love literature, but are feeling discouraged by mediocre books, here’s the cure. . . Camilla Gibb has released a startingly beautiful account of an ordinary life, showcasing her ability to transform the normal into the fantastic. The Petty Details of So-and-so’s Life secures Gibb’s status as an extraordinary talent."
"The power of [Gibb’s] fiction is that one assumes nothing. Gibb is too intelligent an author to take the easy path."
From the Inside Flap
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.See all Product description
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The book tells a story af an European woman, Lily, through a set of cirunstances is raised a muslim in North Afica. The book alternates between telling the story of her early life in Ethiopia and her latter life in London, England.
The character Lily is very well developed. We know quite a bit about her. Her character and circumstances are complicated. Her life story can be termed as sad. Loosing her parents at an early age. Loosing the only man she ever loved. This happens even though she is surrounded by friends that want to help her at all stages of her life. This does make the make the book sad. The story does not have a happy ending.
I don't believe that I am the target audience. I feel that the female will enjoy this book more. That is not to say this is not a good book. I would recommend the book to anyone.
Lilly, born in England but, after the murder of her peripatetic parents in Morocco, remains there and is raised at a Muslim shrine by the Great Abdal, a Sufi teacher, to become a devout Muslim. She is eight years old. When forced to leave Morocco at the age of sixteen due to political upheavals, she embarks on a pilgrimage across the Sahara desert to the ancient holy city of Harar in Ethiopia. Not being accepted as a white girl in the household of the local sheikh, she is sent off to live with a poor cousin of one of his wives. Nouria, single mother of four, subsists in a shack in a deprived part of town. Gibb evokes the sounds and smells of the place, creating an authentic portrait of the harsh life of its inhabitants. Nouria and the neighbours start off being hostile of this "farenji" who knows the Qur'an better than they do. It takes Lilly considerable time and effort to be accepted. Seeking to belong where she can feel emotionally an physically safe, she immerses herself completely in their world and accepts the customs of her surroundings. Through Lilly's eyes the reader is introduced to a culture, rich in tradition and rituals. Not all of them are acceptable to Lilly, given her Sufi upbringing and she argues against them. Political developments in Ethiopia and a new circle of friends also challenge her traditional beliefs and behaviour. When she develops romantic feelings for the young attractive doctor she has to chart out her own way.
Alternating with accounts of her time in Harar, as she grows into an adult (1970-1974), Lilly narrates her life in London, beginning fifteen years after leaving Ethiopia. Now working as a nurse and living in a poor housing estate, she remains an outsider who does not fit into British reality. Committed to preserve her religion and her Ethiopian culture, she befriends Amina, her Ethiopian refugee neighbour and creates an oasis of "home" around them. While Amina and her family adjust more and more to the western lifestyle, Lilly clings to the memories of her previous life and the people in it. But developments force her to reassess and look into the future rather than hanging on to the past. Will she be able to do it?
Gibb's rendering of the East African refugee scene is as realistic as her portrayal of conditions in Harar. Her novel is grounded and enriched by her thorough research and personal experiences with the cultures and the places she evokes. Ethiopians went through famine and deprivations during the early 1907s, a time that ended in the uprising against and eventual removal of the Emperor. Gibb brings this context into the novel without overburdening the reader. She finds a convincing balance between the personal and the general keeping the book a page turner from beginning to end. [Friederike Knabe]
PLOT DESCRIPTION (no real spoilers, but please skip if you prefer not to know!):
Lilly is the only child of a couple of wandering, hippy English parents: "born in Yugoslavia, breast-fed in the Ukraine, weaned in Corsica, freed from nappies in Sicily and walking by the time we got to the Algarve." In Morocco, she's left in the care of the Great Abdal while her parents go jaunting, only to learn she is suddenly an orphan. Raised by the Great Abdal, a muslim Sheikh, and Mohammed Bruce Mahmoud, a "fiery-haired" ex-British Muslim convert, she found that "once I was led into the absorption of prayer and the mysteries of the Qu'ran, something troubled in me became still." When she is 16, she and her friend Hussein make a pilgrimage to the city of Harar in Ethiopia, to the compound of Sheikh Jami Abdullah Rahman, direct descendent of a saint. On route, they stay at the Emperor of Ethiopia's palace, courtesy of a letter of introduction from Mohammed Bruce.
Because Lilly is farenji, white, and the Sheikh is very racist (as is everyone else she encounters there), she is separated from Hussein and sent to live with the sister of the Sheikh's third wife, Noura, an Oromo, while Hussein stays to be one of his disciples. Lilly learns the language of the Hararans, who are not black but consider themselves Arab, who use the local Oromo population as serfs and combine old tradition with Islam. She falls in love with Aziz, a young local doctor, half Hraran, half Sudanese, almost an outcast because he is black. He introduces her to a less all-pervasive interpretation of Islam, and politics.
Famine strikes the north while the Emperor has cavier flown in from Europe for his own dinner. Unrest stirs, the soldiers take over in the name of communism and quickly put in place a military dictatorship. Lilly escapes being rounded up with anyone else who has ties to the Emperor, though she never met him, and makes it to London where she becomes a nurse and, with her friend Amina, sets up an office to keep track of all the refugees, uniting them with family members, all in the hope of finding Aziz's name on a list.
A couple of things I didn't understand: why did Lilly and Hussein stay in Ethiopia, and how did she manage to get through nurse training in England when she'd had no formal education? Minor quibbles...
There are some brutal moments in the story. Most especially disturbing is the scene of female circumscion, which did make me turn green, riveted though I was. I'd seen it on an SBS documentary years ago, the first time I learned that it happened at all (it is illegal, but still practised in many places). The Ethiopan sections are set in the 1970s (Lilly is 19 when she flees), which is not so very long ago. They believed it made women pure, that it kept them from being "on heat", and that they would never get a husband if they weren't infibulated. It's quite terrifying. As Aziz points out, though, it's not actually an Islamic tradition.
But there is a beautiful, delicate balance between the more horrific traditions and superstitions, Islam and a more modern way of thinking. Lilly, as narrator, is never shaken from her beliefs, though she has occasion to question her own nature. She shows a human side to Islam, a side as familiar as Christianity - what I mean is, her religion never comes across as weird, scary, alien etc. The similarities between Islam and Christianity come through clearly. I also liked the "truer" understanding of jihad, as an inner struggle with the flaws of your own nature, not with another person, country or culture.
It is the way this book is written, and Lilly's voice, that make it strangely warm and comforting, as well as humorous (at times), philosophical, world-weary, honest, enlightening, touching. It is such a human story, and I especially find it interesting that it closely follows the lives of women - in Africa and the refugees crowded into the council estate flats in London. It is through the daily lives of women, who worked and cooked and sang and found husbands for their children and kept the old traditions alive, that the city of Harar really comes alive.
There is also insight into the world of refugees and the communities they establish in other parts of the world. While the author confesses she took some liberties with geography and history, still this book fleshed out a country and a people who were only ever, in my mind, images of black skeletons staggering through a desert, thanks to the News. Despite the uglier moments, the uglier side to their world and way of life, the characters were so well drawn that I felt like I knew them personally. I think that this quality, above anything else, is what makes this a "comfort read" for me. I could easily read this many more times, and get more out of it each time.
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Author: Camilla Gibb
Publisher: Anchor Canada
Source: Personal Copy