Thursday, April 05, 2007

Sweetness in the Writing

Trying to catch up with notes on books recently read and still falling behind!

I finished (of course, since I was interviewing her!) Camilla Gibb's third and most recent novel Sweetness in the Belly, and liked it best of all of them.

Sweetness is a story of Lilly, a white Muslim woman, who is forced to rebuild her life as a nurse in Thatcher's Britain after fleeing from Ethiopia, in the process becoming separated from her lover.

Concerned to help the Ethiopian refugee community, she spends her weekends as a volunteer for an organization which seeks to bring exiled families together, and hopes to find news of Aziz.

Alternate chapters tell the story of Lilly's years in Ethiopia, a decade earlier. She is the child of hippy parents who are every bit as irresponsible as the parents in Gibbs' earlier novels. They travel in Morocco and Lilly is left at the shrine of a Sufi saint with an imam called the Great Abdul, while they return to the city and are murdered - probably selling heroin in a back alley. Lilly finds peace in her soul through prayer and learning to recite the Qu'ran.

She makes a pilgrimage to the walled city of Harar in Ethiopia with Hussein (another adoptee of the imam) when unrest breaks out. Lilly goes to live with an impoverished Ethiopian family and gradually learns the ways of the people she has come to live amongst. She falls in love with an idealistic young doctor, Aziz whom she is forced to leave behind when political upheavals make it dangerous for her to stay in the country.

This brief summary doesn't do this carefully researched and beautifully written novel justice. I knew so little about Ethiopia, hadn't even heard of Harar, and now I feel that I've spent some time there - the setting is so beautifully invoked and sensuous. There's a real compassion and respect in Gibbs depiction of the Ethiopian people and their way of life, and the plight of refugees in London.

Would I recommend it? Very strongly.

9 comments:

lil ms d said...

hi sb! streamyx is back!

mum took off with my camilla gibb's books and loved sweetness too. now it's making its rounds at home.

makan next week??

bibliobibuli said...

why not indeed? i'm pretty free at the mo

Jordan said...

Ooh, definitely sounds like an interesting book. I'll have to pick up a copy!

Kenny Mah said...

Sweetness sounds interesting but can't comment on the content since I haven't read it yet. But what a lovely cover, one of the best I've seen this year. The lady has good taste in her cover designers... :)

bibliobibuli said...

jordan - you will like it. can borrow my copy if you like

kenny - i think this is one of camilla's own photos from ethiopia

animah said...

I'm two thirds of the way through (given my short attention span this year, this is something of a miracle). I love this book. She makes you feel you are there, in Harrar listening to the children chant the Quran. It's one of the most beautiful books I have read. I have to read her other books. I'm sad that I did not make it to any of her sessions while she was here.

eliza said...

will get this book, sharon. thanks.

enar arshad said...

this is a very beautiful book.before i read this book Ethiopia is just another faraway african country but camilla breathe life to it .while reading it i have to read very very slow because i do not want to reach the last word on the last page too soon.

bibliobibuli said...

yes, you feel that you are there.

enar, i know what you mean by reading slowly when you don't want a book to end ...