Destinia's Reviews > Sweetness in the Belly

Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb
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Feb 16, 2008

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.

But...

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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06/17/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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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 Baumgartner 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.


Leslie I believe every religion has a spectrum. There are people who use it for comfort and those who use it to oppress. Considering the time and place of this story, it is understandable that Muslim sects from 1970's Ethiopia would be more conservative. This book is not a judgement on Islam, nor did I take it to be. But rather, on an oppressive country, culture, and era. If someone set a book in 1960's Mississippi, Christians would not come off too well. But it would not mean it is a judgement on all Christianity.


Leslie I believe every religion has a spectrum. There are people who use it for comfort and those who use it to oppress. Considering the time and place of this story, it is understandable that Muslim sects from 1970's Ethiopia would be more conservative. This book is not a judgement on Islam, nor did I take it to be. But rather, on an oppressive country, culture, and era. If someone set a book in 1960's Mississippi, Christians would not come off too well. But it would not mean it is a judgement on all Christianity.


S.K. Conaghan As I understand, this work is a piece of fiction. Good fiction may look like some truth we have seen, or appear familiar as though related to a truth we know, but it is still fiction. Fiction, by right, is not truth, and as readers of fiction, while we may glean some understanding, empathy, or passion from the work, at the end of the reading, we must remind ourselves that for as true as the story felt, it is still fiction. As such, though much research has gone into this fair representation of a very ethnographically and individually personal subject, the author, within the rights of the genre of fiction, is at liberty to present her story in whichever fashion she so desires--which includes allowing for her perspective of religion, culture, race, and history to be written as she sees, without being required to make an accurate historical representation. As a fictional account of a specific woman in a specific time in history, with a very unique and specific religio-cultural heritage, this story of love is one that many will relate to and thus find strength to press on in their nonfiction lives. For others, it will be a delightful few hours of escape from their own reality into the fictional world of another. Either way, the debate is sparked because it is such well written fiction that it almost feels real... but it is still fiction.


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