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An interesting look at a little known country
on 2 February 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.