Thursday, October 15, 2009
Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb
It turns out that is it buddy review week. I hope it is not too many in a row! This one is a buddy review with Melissa from Book Nut. This is the first half of the review. To read the second half you have to go Melissa's blog. Enjoy!
Kelly: I guess we should start with a bit of a background. For those that don't know, I live in Canada and Melissa lives in the U.S. We were trying to decide on a buddy read and I thought that reading a Canadian book together would be fun. So, I sent Melissa a list of books on my TBR pile and she checked it against her library and Sweetness in the Belly won. I have wanted to read this book for a very long time, so I was glad to finally get an oppurtunity to.
Kelly: Well, for starters, because it was nominated for the Giller Award (a Canadian book award) and I would like to try and read them all. Then, when it came out people were saying good things about it.
Melissa: How did you hear about this book?
Kelly: Not sure, actually. I think I actually saw it on the bookshelves when it first came out and thought it looked good by the book description, but I didn't really know anything about it . Then, it started to get some press and I decided I really wanted to read it. I have had it in my hands several times to buy, but only just recently bought it at a thrift store. Have you ever heard of it before?
Melissa: Nope. I was actually surprised my library had it. Then again, I'm not exactly up on the book awards -- American or Canadian... I think it's also because books about Africa aren't really on my radar.
Kelly: When I recommended it for us to read, I actually couldn't remember what it was about. I didn't read the back when I bought it recently. I just added it to the pile.
Melissa: Going off what you "usually" read: it's not something that you tend to gravitate to, is it?
Kelly: Nope! I knew about it because it was a Canadian book (in a sense), but otherwise the subject matter was not something I was familiar with at all. I never would have gone to the bookstore looking for a book set in Africa during the 1974 revolution and beyond in Ethiopia. It's not to say that isn't interesting, but I didn't know there was a revoution during the '70's in Ethiopia. It was entirely a new subject for me. What about you? Did you know about the events portrayed in the novel?
Melissa: You know, it's Canadian only because the author is Canadian: I would describe it as an African book.The only thing I could tell you about Ethiopia during that time is from the We Are the World video from 1984. I'm so undereducated about that part of the world. Which was, actually, one of the things I really liked about the book.
Kelly: Me too. But, like I said, I didn't know that at the time. My thoughts have changed now.
Melissa: I liked how Gibb wove the history in with the story; it wasn't ALL about the history, but there was enough there for the reader to get a sense of what was going on in that country during that time. What really surprised me was how much classism? division? there was in Ethiopia itself.
Kelly: Yes, while on the one hand the history was important, on the other hand this is the story of Lilly and her struggles as a daughter of deceased British parents being raised as a Muslim in a country that is predominately darker skinned. She was an outsider and was actually looked down on as a result. Then, when she went to Britain later she had to deal with all the things that had happened to her in Ethiopia and that she had lost.
Melissa: And yet, in spite of all the opposition, especially in Ethiopia, she was able to make a place for herself. Interestingly, it was more difficult for her in England because of all that she went through in Ethiopia. I liked how Lilly saw herself as Ethiopian, how she identified more. It was less about color and race and more about culture and shared experiences.
Kelly: I know! Lilly was actually a really great character. She didn't really see her limitations as anything to worry about. She just did what she need to do to survive. She fell in love with someone considered of a very low standing in Ethiopia because of how dark he was, but didn't let other people's opinions stop her. She changed a lot when she got to Britain, though. I didn't always know if I liked her or not. She seemed to have really given up, which was a shame because she was so strong. She never saw anything wrong with being a white, Muslim in Ethiopia and I really liked that.
Melissa: I liked that, too. I also liked that she didn't see color at all when dealing with people; she just saw people. So, it was confusing to her, all the different distinctions people would make between what is good, and what is appropriate. I didn't know if I liked her English self. Perhaps it was because what she and Aziz had was so fleeting? But, I agree: she had given up hope. What did you think of the religious aspect of the book?
Kelly: I thought they were really interesting, actually. I just recently read a religious memoir, Girl Meets God, with Eva from A Striped Armchair and I have been thinking a lot about my total ignorance of religion. I know the basics, but when you get any fancier than that I am totally lost. For example, it was a bit into the book before I understood it was strange for a white woman to be Muslim. It never even crossed my mind that it wasn't the norm! I also enjoyed that here she was, a white woman back living in Britain and she held on to her beliefs while the other women around her that were actually of Ethiopian descent were adopting white ways. Even if I don't actively practice a religion, I have always been impressed by those that believe so strongly in something that they cannot be swayed.
To read the second half of the review head to Melissa's blog!