Sweetness in the Belly

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 June, 2007, 12:00am

Sweetness in the Belly

by Camilla Gibb

Penguin, HK$112

Writers have explored the experience of being an outsider with varying degrees of success. Camilla Gibb's novel about a white Muslim woman is one of the more affecting accounts of the loneliness of being the Other. Her protagonist, Lilly, the daughter of English/Irish hippie nomads, is 'born in Yugoslavia, breastfed in the Ukraine ... and walking by the time [they] got to the Algarve'. But her story really starts where her parents' wanderings end - in Tangier, where they're killed after leaving their child, aged eight, for three days at a Sufi shrine. When war breaks out in Morocco during her early teens, Lilly is forced to move - this time to Ethiopia. Here, too, she's constantly reminded of her foreignness, although she covers her head in scarves. When she moves again, in 1974, after the fall of emperor Haile Selassie, she finds herself in her homeland, Britain, but is still aware that she's an alien (in Muslim garb). Here, she runs an agency that seeks to reunite African refugees; she herself is looking for a loved one. Gibb's first-person narrative takes the reader from country to country and demonstrates how one holds onto faith and love despite isolation and exile. It will move readers to try to understand.