Publisher: Anchor Canada
Source: Personal Copy
'Sweetness in the Belly' is a beautifully written tale about a young girl who faced harrowing circumstances. Lilly was born to carefree, drug dependant, nomadic parents. The milestones of her life coincided with the different countries she lived in. Lilly's childhood was unconventional and unstable, she was 'breast-fed in the Ukraine, weaned in Corsica, freed from [her] nappies in Sicily and walking by the time [they] got to the Algarve. Just when [she] was comfortable speaking French, [they'd] be off to Spain.' Due to the constant travel, she was deprived of having friends. The family travels end abruptly and Lilly's life is altered forever. Her parents, determined to secure narcotics leave her in the care of a friend and promise to be back within three days. Three days quickly turned to three weeks, and an 8 year old Lilly was informed that her parents were murdered in an alleyway in Morocco. She was suddenly orphaned and placed into the care of Bruce Mohammed, an Islamic convert. Lilly's new guardian shows her the way of life according to the Qur'an and an enlightened Lilly becomes a devout Muslim. After political upheaval, a sixteen year old Lilly is forced to go to the City of Harar where she is placed under the care of a destitute widow. Lilly is faced with hostile neighbors and constantly ridiculed for being a 'farenji.' Her unquestioning faith helps her endure the hardships of life. Lilly adapts, learns the language, the customs and the culture of Ethiopia. Through faith, patience, and determination Lilly finally begins to gain acceptance. Lilly slowly begins to develop feelings for a young Muslim doctor named Aziz. However, political upheaval forces her to flee to London while Aziz is left behind. Life in England is just as difficult and confusing for Lilly. She mourns for a man who may be dead or alive. She allies herself with another Ethiopian refugee named Amina and together they face life in England. Lilly becomes a young woman caught between cultures and identities, fighting for acceptance and Identity.
I was blown away by Camilla Gibb's talent. If I had talent, and could write- I would love to write like Camilla Gibb. She writes an elegant, intricate tale of discovery and I was immediately engrossed in the novel. Lilly was a strong, determined, innocent character and I greatly admired her. The novel is set between England and Ethiopia and each section tells a very different story. Lilly was a Muslim at heart, but she was constantly having to prove who she was. She was an innocent girl caught between identities but she didn't fit the mold. This is a great book club read, and I highly recommend it!