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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting look at a little known country
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...
Published on 2 Feb 2008 by Angela Mottes Rae

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mistakes which jarred
I generally enjoyed this book which spanned two cultures which has been well described in previous reviews however,there were some mistakes which were so jarring that they irritated me to the point of annoyance. There was a reference to Christmas time and a character taking a child to watch the cricket at the oval; winter in the U.K. is not the cricket season and there is...
Published on 21 Aug 2009 by J. Walton


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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
By 
Angela Mottes Rae "Melimato" (Barcelona) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Sweetness In The Belly (Paperback)
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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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Between cultures, 19 July 2007
By 
Friederike Knabe "Books are funny little port... (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Sweetness In The Belly (Paperback)
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. 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]
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for anyone fascinated by cross cultural differences, 20 Aug 2009
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This review is from: Sweetness In The Belly (Paperback)
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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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent read, 13 Mar 2006
This review is from: Sweetness in the Belly (Hardcover)
excellent about muslim life and culture from an muslim african perspective, to be read alongside monica ali and zadie smith. Especially in current times with so much confusion and misunderstanding about muslims and muslim life , culture, immigrants, identity, roots.
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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
By 
DubaiReader "MaryAnne" (Rowlands Castle, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Sweetness In The Belly (Paperback)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, tragic, just wonderful, 28 Oct 2008
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This review is from: Sweetness In The Belly (Paperback)
I just loved this. Set in two periods, we trace Lilly through her youth in Ethiopia and roughly her thirties in Thatcher's Britain. She an immigrant in both cultures - a British born, though African raised, white woman in Ethiopia, she returns 'home' in the 80s to an England she doesn't know, as a committed Muslim and Ethiopian at heart.

The African scenes are rich, full of vibrant detail and cultural reference, while the scenes in tower-block London are grey and bleak, but both strands of the story bubble over with warm, full-bodied and sympathetic characters. Lilly herself is beautifully 'under-drawn' but manages to command your interest and hold the two sides of the story together. One slight flaw is the very rare mistake in the Canadian author's cultural knowledge of 80s Britain - she gets a few things wrong - and this lead me to wonder whether some of her obviously meticulously detailed research into Ethiopian Muslim culture also had the odd faux pas. But that notwithstanding, this is a deep, complex and utterly readable novel. It would make a great film. It's something I could imagine Film Four doing - serious, weighty, yet emotionally engaging and full of life.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book, 8 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Sweetness In The Belly (Paperback)
This is a beautiful and moving book. i have given it to several friends. It is mainly based in Harar, an ancient Ethiopian city, and provides such a fascinating picture of the city that I ended up going there and was not disappointed.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mistakes which jarred, 21 Aug 2009
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This review is from: Sweetness In The Belly (Paperback)
I generally enjoyed this book which spanned two cultures which has been well described in previous reviews however,there were some mistakes which were so jarring that they irritated me to the point of annoyance. There was a reference to Christmas time and a character taking a child to watch the cricket at the oval; winter in the U.K. is not the cricket season and there is no way anyone would be playing. There were also a couple of references to a doctor being outside a hospital in his scrubs; a doctor would never leave a hospital in scrubs and I know this from working in one for years. The other amazing clanger was the comparison of a child wriggling like a piece of bacon in a hot pan which in my mind is so out of place in a book which is about Muslims! I hope that the part of the story set in Ethiopia has not so many faux pas in but as I know little about the country I could not say. On the whole it is a good story if you can ignore the mistakes.
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Sweetness In The Belly by Camilla Gibb
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