Sunday, 27 March 2011

Sweetness in the Belly - Camilla Gibb

Synopsis - In Thatcher's London, Lilly, a white Muslim nurse, struggles in a state of invisible exile.  As refugees from Ethiopia gradually fill the flats of the housing estate where she lives, Lilly tentatively begins to share with them her longing for the home she once had there and her heartbreaking search for her missing lover.

Back in Haile Selassie's Ethiopia, the young Lilly, born in the 1950's to British parents, orphaned and full of religious conviction, finds herself living in the city of Harar.  She is drawn to an idealistic young doctor, Aziz, himself an outsider in the community.  But then convulsions of a new revolutionary order separate them, sending Lilly to an England she has never seen, while Aziz disappears.

Review - Camilla Gibb takes you on a journey through Lilly's life in Ethiopia and her new life in London.  Although Lilly is born to an English father and Irish mother, she is taught the Qur'an and lives as a Muslim.  When she arrives in Harar, she begins to teach the Nouri's children, a woman who gives her a home.  Her skills are noticed by other inhabitants and Lilly is soon teaching several children of different abilities.  When one of Nouri's children is taken ill after her circumcision by a local midwife, Lilly meets Aziz the doctor, and he invites Lilly to partake in berchas ( tea ceremony) on Saturday afternoons.  They fall in love and eventually Lilly has to leave for England as it is not safe for her to remain in Ethiopia.

In London, Lilly works as a nurse but she also runs an independant agency for Ethiopians to find long lost loved ones and relatives.  Her friend Amina finds her husband Yussuf in Rome and he returns with Amina to England, but it is a year or so before they can function properly as a family.  Yussuf's memories from prison are too vivid and it takes him time to learn to live a normal life again.  In the meantime a doctor at the hospital where Lilly works shows an interest in Lilly, but she cannot pursue this until she finds out what has happened to Aziz.
A beautiful tale of love and hope.  We are also given a glimpse of the history and politics of that era in Ethiopia.  4*

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