1. Discuss Lilly's role as an outsider and her struggle for
acceptance both as a farenji in Harar and as a white
Muslim in London. Who else in the novel could be considered an
2. What do the words "family" and "home" mean to Lilly? How does
her view of herself as an orphan evolve over the course of the
3. "Faith has accompanied me over time and geography and
upheaval," says Lilly. For her, love and Islam "have always been
one." Did Sweetness in the Belly in any
way alter or broaden your understanding of Islam? Consider, for
instance, the notion of jihad or holy war.
4. Sweetness in the Belly alternates between
Harar, Ethiopia, in the 70s, and London, England, in the 80s and
early 90s. What qualities does this crosscutting of time and place
impart to the narrative?
5. In the chapter entitled "Exile," Lilly observes that "the
smell of coffee draws women together, an olfactory call throughout
a neighbourhood luring women from their homes to gather…" Later in
the chapter, the act of twisting a mortar over coffee beans and
cardamom triggers in her a surge of nightmarish images from the Red
Terror. Of the many lush sensory details in the novel - both fair
and foul - which affected you the most?
6. While living in Ethiopia, Camilla Gibb witnessed a female
circumcision. A doctoral student in social anthropology at the
time, she says she had to "understand it in the context of the
community in which it was taking place, and not judge." When
Nouria's daughters are circumcised in Sweetness in the
Belly, how does Lilly react as the only Western-born
character in the scene? How did you react as a reader?
7. Based on your reading of Sweetness in the
Belly, what feelings and psychological states are
associated with the experience of exile? How do Amina and Yusuf,
for example, cope with their respective traumas?
8. In Harar, Aziz is called a "black savage, African slave,
barbarian, pagan." In London, Lilly is called a "white fu'in Paki."
Discuss the notion of "otherness" in the novel. How do artificial
divisions manifest themselves based on ethnicity, class, race,
religion and gender?
9. Discuss the ways in which the female characters ensure their
survival and empower themselves despite the gender divisions within
10. What does Lilly mean when she says that Aziz "unveiled" her?
How does she reconcile her love for him with her love of Islam?