excerpt

A guide for book club discussion is available from Doubleday.

Read an excerpt on the NPR site.

“A wonderful feat of imagination and empathy.  I had to suppress bitter feelings of literary envy, even as I couldn't stop devouring it.”– Louis de Bernières

“SWEETNESS IN THE BELLY is a deeply imagined immersion into the lives of people for whom war, poverty, marginalization and exile are the commonplace trials.  Gibb’s understanding of this world seems almost uncanny but it is her compassion for her characters that impressed me the most.  Here is a novel that challenges and disturbs as it enlightens and uplifts.  A really exceptional achievement.” – Barbara Gowdy  

From award-winning and bestselling author Camilla Gibb comes a richly imagined tale of one woman’s search for love and belonging. Gibb astonishes with her searingly honest and emotionally generous portrayal of people facing extraordinary hardship and loss, and in her nuanced portraits of political upheaval in two very different cities.

In the racially charged world of Thatcher’s London, Lilly, a white Muslim nurse, struggles in a state of invisible exile. As Ethiopian refugees 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 in that distant land and her heartbreaking search for her missing lover.

Gibb takes us on a journey back to Emperor Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia, where Lilly, born in the 1950s to British parents who embraced a rootless and unconventional life, eventually finds herself. Through a fateful series of events, Lilly, young, parentless, but full of religious conviction, finds herself living in the Ethiopian city of Harar in the years leading up to the deposition of the emperor. Her position as a foreigner draws her to the idealistic young doctor, Aziz. Their love has only just begun to fulfil its promise when the convulsions of a new order wrench them apart, sending Lilly to an England she has never seen, and Aziz into the darkness of a radical revolution.

Camilla Gibb's evocation of the distinctive world of the ancient walled city of Harar and of the religion, culture, and history of this unique corner of Ethiopia is vivid and rich, evincing both wonder at the beauty and horror at the harshness of the universe in which her characters exist. And Gibb draws us just as completely into the mind of the older Lilly, emotionally paralyzed by her loss. We watch those around her as they succumb to desperation or slowly heal and enter into new life, and we hold our breath as she reaches tentatively toward the hands outstretched to offer solace.


British cover