An evocative and richly imagined story of a British Muslim woman's search for love and belonging in two very different worlds.
When Lilly is eight years old, her pot-smoking hippie British parents leave her at a Sufi shrine in Morocco and inform her they will be back to collect her in three days. Three weeks later, she learns they've been murdered. Lilly fills that haunted hollow in her life with intense study and memorization of the Qur'an under the patient care of the Sufi saint's disciple she was entrusted to.
Years later, her journey from Morocco to Harar, Ethiopia, is half pilgrimage, half flight. In Harar, even her very traditional Muslim head scarves cannot hide her white skin in her new and strange surroundings; the word "farenji"--foreigner--is hissed at her everywhere she turns. She eventually builds a life for herself teaching children the Qur'an, and she finds herself falling in love with an idealistic young doctor. But the two are wrenched apart when Lilly is again forced to flee, for her safety and his, this time to London. Despite her British roots, Lilly discovers she is as much an outsider in London as a Muslim as she was in Harar as a white foreigner.
Gibb's haunting narrative takes us seamlessly on a journey between these two distinct worlds: the ancient walled city of Harar and the racially charged atmosphere of 1980s London. Gibb richly evokes the stinging disconnect between Lilly's past life and her present life, between her attempts to start anew and her inability to let go of the past. Lilly's story is laced with longing and regret, but above all hope--hope that time and love can heal the rifts of her turbulent past. Camilla Gibb has pulled off an astounding feat with this stunning novel; never has the distinct and troubled history of this corner of Ethiopia been told with such humanity, warmth, clarity, and grace.
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"Despite some predictability of plot, the novel fluently speaks the 'languages of religion and exile,' depicting both the multifaceted heartbreak of those lucky enough to escape violent regime changes..." - Publishers Weekly
"Gibbs' novel is a gripping and provocative addition to the post-9/11 genre of fiction exploring the many facets of Islam." - Booklist
"Gibb's territory is urgently modern and controversial but she enters it softly, with grace, integrity and a lovely, compassionate story." - Kirkus
"This is a profound novel, exploring themes of female circumcision, politics, war, tribalism, yet it is also an exquisite homage to Islam. Some of the most beautiful passages are about Lily's faith. Islam is her guiding force, as she seeks to discover the true meaning of jihad, 'The holy war we have within ourselves ... Our internal struggle for purity.'" - The Guardian
"In Sweetness in the Belly, Camilla Gibb, a social anthropologist, offers a vivid National Geographic snapshot of a culture in crisis, but the story she hangs on this richly evoked backdrop is both wildly implausible and strangely wan." - Entertainment Weekly
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Camilla Gibb was born in London, England, and has a Ph.D. in social anthropology from Oxford University. Sweetness in the Belly was an international bestseller that garnered critical acclaim around the world. Her novels, including Mouthing the Words and The Petty Details of So-and-So&'s Life, have been translated into fourteen languages. Camilla Gibb lives in Toronto.
Camilla Gibb: cam-ILL-uh
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