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Sweetness In The Belly

Sweetness In The Belly [Kindle Edition]

Camilla Gibb
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Product Description


"This is a profound novel, exploring themes of female circumcision, politics, war, tribalism, yet it is also an exquisite homage to Islam" (Bernardine Evaristo Guardian)

"Camilla Gibb....burrows deep into the lives of her characters, finding the universal in the exotic" (Kate Saunders The Times)

"A passionate and humane story about people for whom displacement, poverty and war are everyday trials...Gibb, singled out as one of the Orange Futures writers, is one to watch" (Sheila Hamilton Glasgow Evening Times)

"Gibb's understanding of this world seems almost uncanny but it is her compassion for her characters that impressed me the most. [Sweetness in the Belly] challenges and disturbs as it enlightens and uplifts. A really exceptional achievement" (Barbara Gowdy)

"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. . . Succeeds brilliantly . . . A marvellous sight to behold' Montreal Gazette"


Gibb's understanding of this world seems almost uncanny but it is her compassion for her characters that impressed me the most. [Sweetness in the Belly] challenges and disturbs as it enlightens and uplifts. A really exceptional achievement.' Barbara Gowdy '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 that this wonderful women cannot do.' The Times

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 461 KB
  • Print Length: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital; New Ed edition (31 Aug 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005G37TLE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #236,726 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting look at a little known country 2 Feb 2008
This is a story of coming of age in a Muslim community in an ancient Ethiopian town during the last years of Haile Sellassie and the start of Mengistu's reign of terror. The narrator, Lily, is an English woman left as a small child to be brought up by a Muslim religious leader in Morocco after her hippy parents are killed. At the age of 16, she goes on pilgrimage to Harar, an Ethiopian town with a large traditional Muslim population and a particular centre of devotion to a saint, also shared with he Moroccan mentor. There she is rejected, but slowly wins the confidence of the local women through her knowledge of the Koran, which seh begins to teach to local children. Her early years are intercut with the same woman, now a qualified nurse, in the London of the early 1990s, where she is involved in helping Ethiopian refugees, partly in an effort to find the doctor with whom she fell in love in her teens. It is a love story, a fascinating and sympathetic account of a culture which is all too often a closed book to us (the author is a social anthropoligist who did field work in Ethiopia), and for me, an revelation as the brutality if the Mengistu regime - not long ago, but now often forgotten by the West. Gibb writes fluently and interweaves a detailed description of the culture and customs, with well rounded portrayals of the characters. I would thoroughly recommend it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By SusieH
Sweetness in the Belly

Lilly comes to England after a nomadic childhood with her parents, then a more stable period in Morocco after their death, where she is raised by a devout Muslim and embraces Islam herself. She moves from Morocco to Ethiopia, where she lives until life in Ethiopia falls apart.

Now in England, as an Ethiopian refugee, Lilly is white, Muslim, and in her heart far more Ethiopian than British, so doesn't really feel that England is her home. She and her friend Amina help Ethiopian refugees to locate their families. "Our work is not as altruistic as it sounds. We are each looking for someone. Amina's husband Yusuf. My friend Aziz. (Such a weak word, friend. In Harari he is kuday, "my liver", he is like rrata, a piece of meat stuck between my teeth, but English does not allow for such possibilities.)". What an expressive example of differences in culture, as demonstrated by language! There are other lovely examples, such as a toddler being introduced to the wonders of Marmite - which somehow rarely crosses the cultural divide!

Camilla Gibb fills in the background of Lilly's colourful life before arriving in England; as well as how life unfolds for her and Amina over the years after. There are heartwarming stories of families reunited, as well as disappointments, and adjustments to be made.

An excellent read. Should be great for book group discussions.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Between cultures 19 July 2007
Sweetness in the Belly is the moving and heart-warming story of Lilly Abdal, told in her own words, adding to it a special liveliness, directness and authenticity. Camilla Gibb has succeeded in creating a rich and detailed account of the life of a young woman caught between cultures and identities. Her narrative alternates between periods during the four dramatic years in Ethiopia and those during ten years in London, after leaving Ethiopia in 1974, at the end of Emperor Haile Selassi's reign. Gibb's novel is fast moving and particularly compelling in its portrayal of Lilly's life in the holy city of Harar. At the same time, she is conveying in-depth insights into the respective realities there and in England and establishes the religious and cultural context that surround the heroine with great subtlety and credibility.

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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating account of another time and place 3 Aug 2009
An unusual setting for a novel - Morocco, Ethiopia and London from 1970 to 1990, amidst the carnage and destruction of Northern Africa. But it's not a horror story, more a story of survival against the odds.
Well written and totally engrossing.

Lily is born of English / Irish parents and after their tragic deaths is raised as a devout Muslim in the shrine of the Great Abdul. Her childhood has been spent travelling from country to country like a gypsy but when she is orphaned she is in Morocco and makes her home there until political unrest forces her to travel East. Hussein, her travelling companion is a few years older than her but not much more worldy wise. Together they arrive in Harrar, Ethiopia.
Then follows a fascinating account of her efforts to integrate as a "Farenji" or foreigner.
Interwoven with this account is her subsequent life as a refugee in London. Here she struggles with the effects of the war and copes by helping others search for loved ones - all the while living in hope that a certain person will appear on the lists of refugee names.

After a slow start I was rivetted, finding it difficult to drag myself from one existence to the other as the chapters changed. Some of the politics lost me a bit, I wish I knew more about this history, but this was a fascinating start.
Highly recommended.
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