SWEETNESS IN THE BELLY

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Camilla Gibb

An evocative and richly imagined story of a British Muslim woman’s search for love and belonging in two very different worlds.

When Lilly is eight years old, her pot-smoking hippy British parents leave her at a Sufi shrine in Morocco and inform her they will be back to collect her in three days. Three weeks later, she learns they’ve been murdered. Lilly fills that haunted hollow in her life with the intense study and memorization of the Qur’an under the patient care of the Sufi saint’s disciple she was entrusted to. Years later, her journey from Morocco to Harar,

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An evocative and richly imagined story of a British Muslim woman’s search for love and belonging in two very different worlds.

When Lilly is eight years old, her pot-smoking hippy British parents leave her at a Sufi shrine in Morocco and inform her they will be back to collect her in three days. Three weeks later, she learns they’ve been murdered. Lilly fills that haunted hollow in her life with the intense study and memorization of the Qur’an under the patient care of the Sufi saint’s disciple she was entrusted to. Years later, her journey from Morocco to Harar, Ethiopia is half pilgrimage, half flight. In Harar, even her very traditional Muslim headscarves cannot hide her white skin in her new and strange surroundings; the word “farenji” – foreigner – is hissed at her everywhere she turns. She eventually builds a life for herself teaching children the Qur’an, and she finds herself falling in love with an idealistic young doctor. But the two are wrenched apart when Lilly is again forced to flee, for her safety and his, this time to London. Despite her British roots, Lilly discovers she is as much of an outsider in London as a Muslim as she was in Harar as a white foreigner.

Gibb’s haunting narrative takes us seamlessly on a journey between these two distinct worlds: the ancient walled city of Harar and the racially charged atmosphere of 1980’s London. Gibb richly evokes the stinging disconnect between Lilly’s past life and her present life, between her attempts to start anew and her inability to let go of the past. Lilly’s story is laced with longing and regret, but above all hope – hope that time and love can heal the rifts of her turbulent past. Camilla Gibb has pulled off an astounding feat with this stunning novel; never has the distinct and troubled history of this corner of Ethiopia been told with such humanity, warmth, clarity and grace.

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About Camilla Gibb

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