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Sweetness in the Belly

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  8,177 ratings  ·  680 reviews
Like Brick Lane and The Kite Runner, Camilla Gibb's widely praised new novel is a poignant and intensely atmospheric look beyond the stereotypes of Islam. After her hippie British parents are murdered, Lilly is raised at a Sufi shrine in Morocco. As a young woman she goes on pilgrimage to Harar, Ethiopia, where she teaches Qur'an to children and falls in love with an ...more
Paperback, 338 pages
Published April 1st 2007 by Penguin Books (first published March 29th 2005)
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Brianna Daub It was that she had stayed in his palace on his hospitality, and that this was supposedly because her guardian was a friend of his. It is also…moreIt was that she had stayed in his palace on his hospitality, and that this was supposedly because her guardian was a friend of his. It is also mentioned a couple of times that Selassie 'loved' foreigners/Westerners, so that may have also played a role.(less)

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Feb 16, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Michelle O'flynn
Jun 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I really need to revise my ratings, as this is one of my all time favourites, up there with "People of the Book" by Geraldine Brooks.

This is a work of fiction that reads like a colourful symphony...artfully composed and flowing with notes both wistful and poignant. Ms. Gibb transports the reader into the dusty streets of Africa, squatting in the dirt to dry chillies, or chewing qat to get high. Then readers struggle along with the characters in their daily grind as deposed refugees in
May 18, 2007 rated it it was ok
The book was well written, and I liked how it jumped between time periods. But I just didn't feel any pressure to keep reading - it was more like 'a story of the life of...' book with no climax or hook. just kinda ended. Amazing how she was able to completely depict Ethiopia in the pages though... I read this after coming back from there and I could completely picture the streets and imagine the characters. Another caveat though - her descriptions of Islam were not really accurate - much of the ...more
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
Lilly is the only child of a couple of wandering, hippy English parents: "born in Yugoslavia, breast-fed in the Ukraine, weaned in Corsica, freed from nappies in Sicily and walking by the time we got to the Algarve." In Morocco, she's left in the care of the Great Abdal while her parents go jaunting, only to learn she is suddenly an orphan. Raised by the Great Abdal, a muslim Sheikh, and Mohammed Bruce Mahmoud, a "fiery-haired" ex-British Muslim convert, she found that "once I was led into the ...more
Oct 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
Gibb depicts the life of a "ferengi" (foreign/white/European) woman (Lilly) living as a devout Muslim in two settings: Harar, Ethiopia and London, England. Through this character's eyes, we learn more about people in this African nation, struggling with day-to-day tasks amid political, economic, cultural and religious tensions--both in their native country and abroad as refugees.

The author creates a number of compelling characters who inhabit a variety of positions in the spectrum of the Muslim
Mar 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Honestly i just finished the book and the one thing i can say is that it has enlighten something within me and this passage has left a strong impression within me....
"For all the brutality that is inflicted upon us, we still possess the desire to be polite to strangers. We may have blackened eyes, but we still insist on brushing our hair. We may have had our toes shot off by a nine years old, but we still believe in the innocence of children. We may have been raped, repeatedly, by two men in a
Friederike Knabe
Jun 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: canadian-lit
Sweetness in the Belly is the moving and heart-warming story of Lilly Abdal. Told in her own words, it adds 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. It is also a love story at different levels. Her narrative alternates between periods during the four dramatic years in Ethiopia and those during ten years in London, after leaving Ethiopia in 1974, ...more
Mar 22, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
i hesitate to outrightly use terms like predictable and cliche, but this book is rife with common "now" afflictions (third-world vs. first-world transition, cross-cultural spirituality, etc.) that reveal quite a lot about the story's eventual outcome. while the story might be more about the journey than the destination, none of the revelations or realizations really sneak up on or enlighten the reader.
May 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
This story was so well-written I had to check the front cover a couple of times that it was indeed "A Novel"! The story switches back and forth in time, and the author does it so well I was easily able to read without the dissonance I often feel with the technique. The story of a white Muslim woman in Ethiopia during the times of great changes, this story is also a scrabble-lover's dream. Words like QAT, SUQ, MIRQANA, and more are used throughout. I won't have any trouble remembering those words ...more
Oct 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
After her Hippie parents are murdered, Lilly, an eight year old white girl is raised as a Sufi Muslim in Morocco. At the age of 16 she undertakes a gruelling overland spiritual pilgrimage from Morocco to Ethiopia, where she boards with a poor family in the mostly Muslim town of Harar, earning her keep through teaching the Qur'an to local children. The 1970's are a harsh time in Ethiopia, and life for Lily is not easy. As a single woman in a Sufi Muslim society, she is treated with suspicion. As ...more
Nura Yusof
Jul 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sweetness in the Belly is a "quiet" book, it creeps up on you slowly but surely with its poignant tale of love, lost and found set in a world of displaced people and cruel realities.

I was apprehensive to read a story of a Muslim woman who is so steadfast in her faith, written by a non-Muslim. I shouldn't have worried much, as the Islamic themes (both spiritual and cultural) were handled with great sensitivity and understanding.

Many reviews of this book spoke about the main character's constant
Orla Hegarty
Apr 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
As someone with very little knowledge of Ethiopia I appreciated this book enormously not only for it's educational value but also for the compelling stories of refugees and the struggles they face trying to build new lives. Novels that manage to weave compelling characters with a depth of cultural and historical information are like gems along my reading journey for they expand my world well beyond what a dry reading of any assortment of texts or articles on the issues could ever hope to do.
Jun 05, 2018 rated it liked it
I would give it 3.5 stars because the writing was so fantastic—such rich descriptions of people, places, feelings! I appreciated the chance to read more about Ethiopia and its history and the facets of Islam. I also like the theme of discovering a sense of self and identity. The book was just kind of boring. There was no real climax or inciting incident; the story just dragged along.
May 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Camilla Gibb really hit the sweetspot on this one. I knew very little about Ethiopia's history beyond the tragic famine pictures that had appeared in the news. This is a truly engaging story.
Sep 16, 2015 rated it liked it
I enjoyed the book, its basic story line, and I appreciate the educational aspects of the novel (i.e. Ethiopia, Sufi Islam, the difficulties of being a refugee in a western country). I think any reader with an interest in the world, in anthropology, in world religions, will appreciate and enjoy the book. I also think the novel is a very honest, accurate depiction of someone who is dispossessed (someone who finds themselves rootless for a variety of reasons -in this case blending reasons of ...more
Nov 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012, school, favourites
Right off the bat, I think I should point out that my familiarity with Ethiopian culture and history is not enormous. I don't think I'm in a position to evaluate whether or not Gibb's treatment of the country was or was not problematic. I've been doing some reading about this book, and the consensus from people who know better seems to be that it succeeds in a lot of ways in portraying a complex culture beyond just "starving and poor", but that there are subtle ways in which Lilly's whiteness is ...more
Feb 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This fascinating story takes us between two very different worlds. London in the 1980’s where Lily is a nurse struggling to find her place and Africa where she was raised by a Moroccan religious leader after being orphaned by her hippie English parents.

Much of the action takes place in Ethiopia where Lily must struggle to integrate herself and come to terms with cultural practices strange and abhorrent to her. She finds acceptance and comfort in teaching her adoptive family and other
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Jul 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: spirituality, travel
Lilly’s parents, British citizens, lead a life of reckless wanderings. While the family is traveling in Ethiopia, Lilly’s parents are killed and Lilly is sent to stay with the Great Abdal, a teacher and leader of his people. She is taught to be a devout Muslim by Abdal and she learns much about literature and art by visits from a great teacher, Muhammed Bruce. Eventually she is sent to live with a young mother, Nouria. Lilly finds she can supplement the income of Nouria and her children by ...more
Adrian Charles
Apr 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
“Sweetness in the Belly”, by Camilla Gibb. ****

A lush, leisurely love story— but the principal love interest is Ethiopia: people, culture, and religion.

The novel tells the story of an Ethiopian Muslim woman of white Irish parentage, and her experience as a teen Ferengi (‘outsider’) in Ethiopia, and a refugee after resettlement in London in 1974.

She leaves her heart in Ethiopia, in more ways than one, and the tale is part coming-of-age story, part romance novel— but mainly an account of Ethiopian
Hannah Wattangeri
Jan 31, 2018 rated it liked it
An interesting book set in Ethiopia and London. A sensitive and thoughtful account of devastation of dictatorship, revolution and destruction in Ethiopia and the struggles of being a refugee in London - the sense of displacement and loss, whilst dealing with the past traumas of war. Also an interesting analysis of differences in practices of Islam, depending on different cultures and traditions. I am unfamiliar with what the political scene was in Ethiopia in '70's but sense that her political ...more
Jan 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5 out of 5.0 stars - I really really liked this book - the book deals heavily with the politics of Ethiopia and the practices of Islam, topics which might cause a story to drag or deter readers, but I felt they were so deftly woven into the plot that it never felt like a history lesson. Gibb is a talented writer and I plan to read more of her work!
Sep 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
I really liked this book. Very readable; immerses you into Lilly's world of poverty, war, and exile. Despite these depressing topics- this story uplifts as Lilly rises above her circumstances. I recommend this book to everyone- its truly wonderfully written!
Rebecca McNutt
Jun 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Well-written and creative for the most part, this book was interesting and worth reading.
Feb 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
A thoroughly enjoyable book. Having read "The Beauty of Humanity Movement" and it being one of my favourite books of all time, I looked forward to reading this earlier novel by Camilla Gibb. Like " Beauty" this story was equally warm, eloquently told and touching. Daughter of a very nomadic, hippie-like couple and left alone in Morocco, Lily is orphaned at a young age and raised by a much beloved Imam, who schools her in the Muslim faith. Lily embraces her faith completely and it anchors and ...more
Ashleigh Marshall
Mar 20, 2017 rated it liked it
"Sweetness in the Belly" is about a young women whose parents were English and Irish hippies who left her orphaned at a very young age due to their death. She then stayed with a family friend in Morocco, a priest who taught her, the Muslim religion. From growing up she did not have friends and all she did was study the Quran. But finally around the age of sixteen she was sent to live on her own and to seek shelter from the religious leader of Harar. But since she was a foreigner and did not look ...more
Sweetness in the Belly follows the story of Lilly Abal, the daughter of an English father and Irish mother, both world wanderers and hippies. She grows up in Morocco, but is orphaned by age 8 and is brought up by a devout Muslim who teaches her the Qu'ran. When Moroccan internal strife forces her to leave the country, she winds up living in Haran, Ethiopia in a compound of women and children who are all leery of this white farenji, who seems to speak not only English, but Arabic and Amharic. ...more
Traycee Wiebe
Feb 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A delightful find that I wasn't really expecting. Written by an up-and-coming young Canadian writer, I found Sweetness in the Belly to be a very mature and sophisticated story about a white English woman living as a Muslim in 1980's Ethiopia. I loved that the descriptive writing took me into the cramped alleyways and the dark huts of Harar and allowed me to feel the atmosphere through words. I became engrossed in the love story of Lilly and Aziz... hey, I'm a girl! But I also became invested in ...more
Nov 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
While sometimes uneven, an insightful, sensitive and lyrical entree into Ethiopia through the interactions of a British-Muslim convert and her host culture in 1960s and 70s Muslim Harar. Alternating between refugee life in Britain and evocative memories of a life once-lived, a time of stabliity replaced by political change under the waning years of Haile Selassie, the orchestrated deceit of media and the lustre of innnocent socialist promise in the wake of dictatorial reign, the book is as ...more
Aug 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
I really loved this book. I think every Muslim should read it. It captured how I feel about being a Muslim -- that sense of brother/sister-hood with your fellow Muslims of all different races and backgrounds; the misuse of culture. The descriptions of Harar, the ancient, walled, Muslim city of Ethiopia, were beautiful and wonderful. I have actually visited Harar, so it might have meant more to me, but I think anyone reading it gets a sense of the magical grit of Harar. Also, the author captures, ...more
Laila Haerian
Dec 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
Liked the way the story was told, back and forth in time. I found the story plain and beautiful. It was the first time I read a novel which was partly happening in Ethiopia, love to read about stories happening in different / far away countries and cultures.

- At some part of the book, it compared Reincarnation belief in Hinduism with the Sufism. In both, the idea is for the soul to improve and get closer to its highest potential. This could happen through many lives in Reincarnation and in one
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Goodreads Librari...: Page correction. 3 19 Oct 07, 2012 03:54PM  

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From the author's web site:

"Camilla Gibb, born in 1968, is the author of three novels, Mouthing the Words, The Petty Details of So-and-so's Life and Sweetness in the Belly, as well as numerous short stories, articles and reviews.

She was the winner of the Trillium Book Award in 2006, a Scotiabank Giller Prize short list nominee in 2005, winner of the City of Toronto Book Award in 2000 and the
“It is his absence that is part of me and has been for years. This is who I am, perhaps who we all are, keepers of the absent and the dead. It is the blessing and burden of being alive.” 9 likes
“Once you step inside, history has to be rewritten to include you. A fiction develops a story that weaves you into the social fabric, giving you roots and a local identity. You are assimilated, and in erasing your differences and making you one of their own, the community can maintain belief in its wholeness and purity. After two or three generations, nobody remembers the story is fiction. It has become fact. And this is how history is made.” 6 likes
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