Destinia's Reviews > Sweetness in the Belly

Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb
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's review
Apr 02, 09

it was ok
Read in January, 2006

The language is beautiful, the descriptions of the culture and landscape are intense, even her depiction of the main character's feelings in memorizing the Qur'an is, to me, a Muslim, a mind opener.


The Islam in her book is not the real Islamic teaching. It's heavily mixed with cultural traditions, but still labeled 'Islam'. I can imagine the readers say "Oh, now I know more about Islam' but are actually misled. True, it's not Miss Gibbs responsiblity (why would you learn about a religion from someone who is not a believer again?), but with all the precise details she showed of the traditions and habits, one might assume that she had done a lot of research about Islam and that her portrayal of Islam is valid. So all those mistaken information has left me dissatisfied.

I also have a problem with her message. To conclude that a person can only be a 'good person' if she/he becomes more permissive, leaving the code of law now and again, may be what many readers want, but is not prudent. Everyone in her story either becomes inhumane from or shackled with the religion (Islam), or they leave Islam and be humane again. Perhaps she's yet to meet a person who is kind, compassionate, and successful BECAUSE he/she is a Muslim. Or perhaps she has never read the stories of the Prophet (who is the kindest, the most compassionate ever, and very, very successful). Or simply because she meant to discredit Islam. God knows best.

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Comments (showing 1-4)

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Rozza this book does not profess to be a lesson in Islam. Although as a non-muslim I envy the devotion to prayer and reading of the Koran. I didn't find any discrimination in her book, only, for me, a leaning towards the faith in many ways. This book was basically a love story that en-lightened us to the cruelty and jealousy of Ethiopia. How fragile a country can become. and the helplessness the West felt when seeing the pictures of a starving people. i urge everyone to read it..

Susan Thank you so much for your review! The main character goes through some struggles that I believe address your one concern about this book confusing Islamic teaching and cultural traditions. She talks about how many look down on the Ethiopian god pantheon, and how certain traditions her adopted family practice are superstitions, not Islam. Perhaps the author's intent was simply to show how the variety of thought and leaves it up to the reader to go from there. I really enjoyed hearing the different voices in the book- it was refreshing.

Myriam *spoiler alert*
Destinia, thanks for your review.
I feel compelled to comment however, because I got a completely different message from the book than you did.
As a non-muslim, I found it very clear that much of the islam that was presented in the book was mixed with culturally specific traditions - this is adressed head-on when Amina's practice changes in the UK and Lilly observing the effects of migration on the other immigrants' religious practice.
The author's afterword also makes clear that she took liberties (like making a saint out of someone who is not).
As with your problem with the author's message, I also disagree. I think Lilly shows that she gains much from islam. If the author's message was as you say, I don't think she would have portrayed Lilly's non-muslim parents in such a negative light for example. Personally, the overall impression I got of islam in this book was more positive than anything.
Finally, I don't think anyone would confuse this novel with a treatise on islam.

Shauna Agreed with the comments, I too understood that the depiction was about the traditions of a particular region. Also, the author mentions SEVERAL times that mainstream Islam is different from the cultural interpretation shown in the book.

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