Sweetness In The Belly

Sweetness In The Belly

Book - 2005
Average Rating:
Rate this:
Lilly, the main character of Camilla Gibb¿s stunning new novel, has anything but a stable childhood. The daughter of English/Irish hippies, she was "born in Yugoslavia, breast-fed in the Ukraine, weaned in Corsica, freed from nappies in Sicily and walking by the time [they] got to the Algarve". ... The family¿s nomadic adventure ends in Tangier when Lilly¿s parents are killed in a drug deal gone awry. Orphaned at eight, Lilly is left in the care of a Sufi sheikh, who shows her the way of Islam through the Qur¿an. When political turmoil erupts, Lilly, now sixteen, is sent to the ancient walled city of Harar, Ethiopia, where she stays in a dirt-floored compound with an impoverished widow named Nouria and her four children. In Harar, Lilly earns her keep by helping with the household chores and teaching local children the Qur¿an. Ignoring the cries of "farenji" (foreigner), she slowly begins to put down roots, learning the language and immersing herself in a culture rich in customs and rituals and lush with glittering bright headscarves, the chorus of muezzins and the scent of incense and coffee. She is drawn to an idealistic half-Sudanese doctor named Aziz, and the two begin to meet every Saturday at a social gathering. As they stay behind to talk, Lilly finds her faith tested for the first time in her life: "The desire to remain in his company overwhelmed common sense; I would pick up my good Muslim self on the way home." Just as their love begins to blossom, they are wrenched apart when the aging emperor Haile Selassie is deposed by the brutal Dergue regime. Lilly seeks exile in London, while Aziz staysto pursue his revolutionary passions. In London, Lilly¿s life as a white Muslim is no less complicated. A hospital staff nurse, she befriends a refugee from Ethiopia named Amina, whose daughter she helped to deliver in a back alley. The two women set up a community association to re-unite refugees with lost family members. Their work, however, isn¿t entirely altruistic. Both women are looking for someone: Amina, her husband, Yusuf, and Lilly, Aziz, who remains firmly, painfully, implanted in her heart. The first-person narrative alternates seamlessly between England (1981-91) and Ethiopia (1970-74), weaving a rich tapestry of one woman¿s quest to maintain faith and love through revolution, upheaval and the alienation of life in exile. Sweetness in the Belly was universally praised for the tremendous empathy that Gibb brings to an ambitious story. Kirkus Reviews writes that the novel "reflect(s) the pain, cultural relocation and uncertainty of tribal, political and religious refugees the world over. Gibb's territory is urgently modern and controversial but she enters it softly, with grace, integrity and a lovely compassionate story. [It is a] poem to belief and to the displaced---humane, resonant, original, impressive." According to the Literary Review of Canada, Sweetness in the Belly is "...a novel that is culturally sensitive, consummately researched and deeply compassionate...richly imagined, full of sensuous detail and arresting imagery...Gibb has smuggled Western readers into the centre of lives they might never otherwise come into contact with, let alone understand."
Publisher: Toronto : Doubleday Canada, 2005.
ISBN: 9780385660174


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Jan 21, 2020

I first read this book soon after publication. Over the years I thought about different details of the book again and again, but I had forgotten the title. I searched the library website, and my lists of books read and books recommended, but I couldn't find it. A friend suggested asking one of the librarians at Mpls Central Library, so I did. The librarian did a Google search, adding all the details I could remember about the book and found the title, there were 3 copies available on the shelf. It was different than I remembered - as with so many memories some details loom larger and other are overlooked. It was every bit as good as my first read more than a decade ago. Wonderful book.

Aug 16, 2019

Read it (again) before the film adaptation makes it’s debut at TIFF.

Mar 14, 2017

Story is about a refugee coming to Canada from Somalia. Gives a good prospective of differences with in the muslim religion. A young white british women is orphaned due to her hippie parents being murdered . She is adopted and brought up as a Sufi Muslim in Morocco.
When she moves to Harar, Ethiopia ( stricter muslim area) she is called a ferungi a foreigner . Despite being brought up as a devout Muslim she is seen as a white women.
She eventually has to leave Harar due to her political affiliation with a deposed, corrupt emperor. She moves to London , England in the 1980's . She once again experiences racial prejudices on many levels.. It is written in a poetic fashion.
A very good read.

Feb 08, 2017

Beautifully crafted.

Oct 04, 2016

This is an interesting angle from which to view Islam. Lilly is English but raised as a Muslim first in Morocco and then in Ethiopia after her parents die in a car crash. We first meet her as an adult in London where she works as a nurse, and maintains her religious faith through friendships in the immigrant community. The author entwines the story of her upbringing and life before England with the present day. We see her learning to be a Muslim, and in the here and now staying true to that heritage, all the while functioning in the nonreligious English environment . Her steadfast belief in her future reunification with her Ethiopian love is amazing. The writing kept me reading and kept me liking and hoping that Lilly would be happy.

Dec 26, 2015

Well written book that provides a small glimpse at Ethiopia and it's more recent history.

WVMLStaffPicks Jan 22, 2015

A truly wonderful novel set in the traumatized refugee communities and grim housing estates of Thatcher's London, where Lilly, a white Muslim nurse, grieves the people she left behind in the chaos and civil unrest of Ethiopia. Deeply committed to the faith she adopted after her ex-pat, hippie parents were killed in Morocco, the rootless Lilly had just begun to find a sense of home in Harar when she was forced to abandon the city and her nascent love affair with Aziz, a political young doctor, for a lonely exile in England.

Feb 02, 2014

An incredible story about a young girl of British ancestry ,raised as a Muslim .
The insights about Africa and Muslim history which Gibbs has weaved into a love story showcases the authors gifts.
Shortlisted for a Giller Prize .

Sep 24, 2013

Couldn't put it down. Amazing book, extremely well written. The definition of a page-turner.

WVMLBookClubTitles Jun 22, 2013

Deeply committed to the faith she adopted after her ex-pat, hippie parents were killed in Morocco, the rootless Lilly had just begun to find a sense of home in Harar when she was forced to abandon the city and her nascent love affair with a politically minded young doctor for a lonely exile in England. Living among traumatized refugees in London’s grim housing estates, Lilly, a white Muslim nurse, grieves the people she left behind in the chaos and civil unrest of Ethiopia.

View All Comments

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number



Find it at WPL

To Top