Sweetness in the Belly

Kobo ebook | May 29, 2009

byCamilla Gibb

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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.”

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Sweetness in the Belly

Kobo ebook | May 29, 2009
Available for download Not available in stores

From the Publisher

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 Ta...

Format:Kobo ebookPublished:May 29, 2009Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0307373347

ISBN - 13:9780307373342

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Customer Reviews of Sweetness in the Belly


Rated 4 out of 5 by from Tough and Lovely story Lilly gives us insight into the inner realms and feelings of those ripped from the homes and people they love and thrown into places for which they are expected to be grateful, and the deep struggle to find balance and a foothold of security while drowning in all that is unfamiliar. I loved this story for its poignancy for our current Canadian culture and the messages from Lilly's life and love that we could all do to heed...
Date published: 2017-01-01
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not for me This novel obviously resonates with a large group of readers and is well written and realistic, but I couldn't connect to the protagonist and had a hard time getting through the story.
Date published: 2016-12-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from engaging Really enjoyed the combination of a good story with an expert understanding of the social situations-writer herself being a social anthropologist-gave real authenticity to the description of the Ethiopian tragedy and the refugee experience.
Date published: 2015-09-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent book. Camilla Gibb has a good grasp of the human condition. Was a fabulous book and gave me a better understanding of life in Ethiopia.
Date published: 2015-04-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Surprising and Thought Provoking This book surprised me. I took part in a discussion about "Sweetness in the Belly" before i started reading it. The reviews and comments were varied, but i walked away feeling that this wouldn't be my type of book and would just frustrate me. Someone made a comment that the main character, Lilly, didn't really grow, that her character development was never pushed and that she seemed to think and feel the same throughout the book no matter what her age or circumstance. However, i felt that there was a valid reason for Lilly's lack of personal growth. She missed Aziz terribly...he was so tightly wrapped up with Lilly's identity of what it meant to be Muslim living in Ethiopia, to be devout yet at the same time open and willing to question religion and her life. I found myself respectful and envious in many ways of the discipline and structure of the religion that outlined Lilly's every day. The movement back and forth between Ethiopia and England makes it easy to follow the flow of what is happening to Lilly, why she thinks and feels the way she does, and why it takes her so long to allow herself to feel true happiness.
Date published: 2011-02-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my favourites! This is a lovely book which is not only well written but also gave me a perspective that a westerner might never otherwise have. I never would have imagined understanding and appreciating life as an Ethiopian Muslim woman but there you go. I highly recommend this book to anyone with an adventurous spirit.
Date published: 2010-01-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Beautiful Sweetness in the Belly, left behind just that . . . a sweet feeling in my belly.
Date published: 2009-06-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Door to a Hidden World Sweetness in the Belly, by Camilla Gibb is a novel about finding yourself and finding your passion for life. It is about going through terrible hardships and adversity to come out a stronger person. A whole person. Lilly the protagonist, is a white Muslim woman living in Harar, Ethiopia and London, England. The novel traces her life through various periods of her life, switching back and forth between "present day" London and Harar during Haile Selassie's reign. It is about Lilly's love for a man and her religion, what she knows and what she doesnt. As worlds collide, her white heritage sends her reeling back to a London she doesnt know, living like a refugee, while her love Aziz is left alone in Harar to deal with the reprecussions of Haile Selassie's abdication. An easy read and an enjoyable one. The novel really lets you into the inner world of a Muslim woman, something that I have never really seen before. All in all a very good novel, enjoyable and heartbreaking.
Date published: 2008-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from absolutely great This book was recommended to me a librarian and I'm so glad I took her advice. It's a really interesting story that doesn't over-simplify things but still isn't too hard to read. I used to live in Ethiopia (where story takes place) and that also makes it interesting. I can't wait to read more books by Camilla Gibb.
Date published: 2008-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great read! This book is amazing! I had a day off from work and spent the day all curled up reading it. I found it very difficult to put down and had it finished within the day!
Date published: 2008-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful I truly enjoyed reading this book. It is a book about love and faith and friendship. One of the best books I have read in a while!
Date published: 2008-01-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The politics of love... British born, Canadian raised writer Camilla Gibb's stunning new novel Sweetness in the Belly divided last month's book club. I was among those who loved it. The book tells the story of Lilly, born to hippie parents and brought up, after their death, in the city of Harar as a Muslim. Her story is told by layering her young years in a politically charged Ethiopia with her life as a nurse in London. It's a fascinating picture of a world torn apart by poverty and prejudice and by Lilly's own beliefs. It is also a love story as we wait with Lilly to learn the fate of her lover, Aziz. I know nothing of the politics of Ethiopia under Emperor Haile Selassie. I know very little about the Muslim religion, but Gibb's beautiful prose and attention to detail (she conducted fieldwork in Ethiopia for her PhD in social anthropology) makes this book a page-turner. The characters are complex and interesting and the day to day struggles of the women, in particular, are riveting. I was both gutted and elated by book's end.
Date published: 2007-11-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Must Read!! Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb was a beautiful story of hope and new beginnings. Set in both London and Ethiopia, this story will grab the reader as they experience both love and loss through Lilly's eyes. This book was recommended to me and I will definitely be recommending it to others - both customers and friends alike. Excellent read!
Date published: 2007-09-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Compelling Read This is a fine tale, full of hope and dispair. We meet Lilly, a young English woman who is orphaned in North Africa and is brought up and educated by Islamic scholars. She become a Muslim and eventually travels to Harar in Ethiopia when she blends into the local society. As she becomes more and more Ethiopan she accepts here life there, falls in love and ...well I wont go into further detail. The novel in set in two different places (also London) and at different times. As her story unfolds, we begin to care a great deal about her and hope against odds that she will find happiness. This is a compellng book.
Date published: 2007-03-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Power of Belonging A wonderfully told novel about the power of belonging. A tad too academic but the reader learns much about the Ethiopia of the '70's-'90's, as well as the plight of thousands of Ethiopian refugees, including the protagonist, Lilly--a white English/Irish woman, converted to Islam.
Date published: 2007-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Captivating This book came highly recommended, and surprisingly enough it was all that people said it was. I could not put it down! At first the style put me off a bit, because Gibb jumps from one time period to the next and then back again, and yet it quickly grew on me. This story is very well written, and is different than many books I've read recently. Lilly, the main character, draws you in to her life. Her struggles are unique and intriguing. I absolutely loved the book and highly recommend it.
Date published: 2006-06-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoyed This Book This was one of those books that once I started reading it, I couldn't put it down. The story and characters were well developed. The topic is heavy but the style of writing is easy follow and the author keeps you interested throughout the entire book. Definitely one I would recommend.
Date published: 2006-06-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Hidden gem Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to listen to a guest speaker in my Socio-Cultural Anthropology class at the University of Toronto. This guest speaker was Camilla Gibb. I really hated the course at that point in the year, and was trying to find something positive to take from it. I was so mesmerized by listening to Camilla Gibb that I decided to purchase her book. I wanted a chance to read word for word the story she was telling. This book is beautifully written - it touches on some difficult subjects that are pertinent to Africa, and depicts some beautiful and unusual relationships between the lead character, Lilly, and the people in her life. It is complex, different and bold. It is unlike anything I have ever read - if you are looking for a book that is different and thought-provoking, Camilla Gibb's "Sweetness in the Belly" is an excellent choice.
Date published: 2006-05-30