Sweetness reviews


“Although written by a non-Muslim, the portrait of Islam in Sweetness in the Belly is superbly nuanced and feels real.” Republika Indonesia

“[a] tender and thoughtful novel…Gibb’s flowing and confident storytelling makes great reading…Gibb manages to capture and share movingly and beautifully the pains of being an outsider, a refugee from a war-torn country, and a Sufi Muslim. She has gathered a faithful following and I suspect will be one of the young writers who, like a breath of fresh air, will make a difference in the literary world.” Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil – Malaysia ’s Minister of Women, Family and Development – Malaysia Star

“Gibb captures the intricate beauty of Islam through the eyes of a true pilgrim…Rife with irony, the novel finds beauty in even the most devastating of human tragedies and challenges the traditional notion of “foreigner.” Constructed with intricacy and sensitivity…” Canadian Literature

“A sophisticated, ambitious and deeply affecting novel which is devastatingly relevant to our contemporary world.” Giller Prize jury




“Sweetness in the Belly” is fun and easy to read above all, it is a book that depicts in a very powerful way the Ethiopian condition, a condition of love, tolerance, endurance, optimism and triumph… this writer is grateful for bringing the human-condition in Ethiopian into the fore.” Ethiopian Observer

“Sweetness In The Belly is remarkable for its geographic, thematic and historic amplitude and breadth, depicting the multi-cultural and modern world. Gibb, singled out as one of the Orange Futures writers, is certainly one to watch.” The Birmingham Post

“This engrossing book seems utterly convincing and authentic. The glimpse it offers into the intimate lives of Muslim women and Ethiopian life and clan and national politics is sharp and moving…but there are also many sequences of lovely stillness (that) anchor the novel in beautifully evoked, everyday reality. Lilly’s voice is so believable that her story immediately seems true, so true that at times it almost convinces a reader that this might be an actual ethnographic manuscript rather than fiction. That’s a triumph, isn’t it?

A novel that will take you to a place so far from yourself that you may wonder, from time to time, whether you are ever coming back.” San Francisco Chronicle (March 26, 2006)

“Gibb’s grave and graceful third novel…does a timely job of reminding readers of the peaceful, centering power of Islam. …a story that pierces the heart…Empathy drifts up from the pages of this novel like the fumes of incense thrown on coals in a Muslim ceremonial act. Gibb, exercising delicacy and restraint, immerses herself fully in the experience of the dispossessed…This is a lovely and humane book that also, discreetly, performs significant services, opening up to view distant or closed worlds…” The Miami Herald

“……immensely appealing…[with] lyrical flourishes Gibb can truly transport her reader to a place they might never experience in the flesh…beautiful description that uncannily captures the earthy rightness of belonging…” Newsday

“…a timely exploration…sensitively written and expertly executed…[Gibb’s] gifted use of intoxicating sensual detail vivifies the contemporary issues. This novel lingers in the mind long after the last page is turned.” Time Out (London)

“This is a profound novel, exploring themes of female circumcision, politics, war, tribalism, yet it is also an exquisite homage to Islam. Some of the most beautiful passages are about Lily’s faith. Islam is her guiding force, as she seeks to discover the true meaning of jihad, “The holy war we have within ourselves … Our internal struggle for purity”. Gibb’s astonishing use of sensory detail is vibrant and palpable… There is nothing mundane about this very accomplished novel.” The Guardian

“Riveting…Indeed, Lilly’s quest alone makes Gibb’s novel remarkably compelling. But even more impressive is its affecting depiction of the pain and loneliness of exile.” Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Totally believable.” Philadelphia Inquirer

“Sweetness in the Belly…reflect(s) the pain, cultural relocation and uncertainty of tribal, political and religious refugees the world over. Gibb’s territory is urgently modern and controversial but she enters it softly, with grace, integrity and a lovely compassionate story. A poem to belief and to the displaced–humane, resonant, original, impressive.” Kirkus (starred review)

“With sure-handed, urgent prose…the novel fluently speaks the “languages of religion and exile,” depicting both the multifaceted heartbreak of those lucky enough to escape violent regime changes and the beauty of unlikely bonds created by the modern multicultural world.” Publishers Weekly

“A gripping and provocative addition to the post-9/11 genre of fiction.” Booklist


“Gibb skillfully weaves two distinct narratives around her central character… Sweetness in the Belly is ultimately a tale of universal remembrance and forgetting, of forgiveness, of losing and then finding a home.” Scotland on Sunday

“Lilly’s story of exile and heartache reveals itself to the reader to stunning effect.” Red Magazine

“A passionate and humane story about people for whom displacement, poverty and war are everyday trials…Gibb, singled out as one of the Orange Futures writers’, is one to watch.” Glasgow Evening Times

“Just as Lilly, a white Muslim, if forced to accept the consequences of divisions caused by race and religion, so Gibb forces readers to confront their own prejudices. It’s one to watch for the Orange and Man Booker shortlists next year.” The Bookseller (UK)

“Politically intriguing while also touching on love and loss, this well-wrought work should enthrall Western readers.” Library Journal

“Sweetness in the Belly is one of those near-perfect fictions: a sustained flight of imagination backed up by firsthand experience, with a sympathetic but alluringly outré central character and a teeming, colourful supporting cast. That it concerns East African Muslims, both at home in Ethiopia and in exile in London, only adds timeliness to a book that’s already brimming over with an irresistible plot and great social significance… Readers are likely to emerge from its pages feeling bruised but hopeful, and better informed about both Islam and émigrés everywhere.” Georgia Straight

“Gibb’s Africa is finely crafted, as is her delicate rendering of the complexities of Ethiopian society.” Time Magazine

“A compellingly told story of a young white Muslim woman, whose nomadic parents left her with a legacy of intense and varied cultural bonds. Addressing the pain of immigration, the beauty of sharing unfamiliar customs and the horror of seeing one’s home country in tatters, Gibb is unerringly direct.” Good Housekeeping

“Wonderful.” Canadian Press

“…a novel that is culturally sensitive, consummately researched and deeply compassionate. Her writing is fluid, visceral, vivid and even…richly imagined, full of sensuous detail and arresting imagery…Gibb has smuggled Western readers into the centre of lives they might never otherwise come into contact with, let alone understand.” Literary Review of Canada

“International in scope, post-modern in perspective, Gibb’s latest work is a searing tale of tragedy, love and faithfulness….Gibb makes her characters achingly real. She shows us love in the face of terrible struggle and, in revealing one woman coming to term with inexplicable loss, she shows us a community of faith that, through ritual and intensive practice, is able to overcome despair.” Edmonton Journal

“Sweetness in the Belly is vivid and rich with interesting detail, politically relevant and eminently readable.” Globe and Mail

“A beautifully crafted novel, Sweetness in the Belly transcends the boundaries that are defined by the propaganda makers that pit Islam and the West against one another. Instead of focusing on the fear and mistrust orchestrated by those who profit the most from hatred and war, Gibb writes from the heart, revealing what is both sublime and common in every culture in the world: the yearning for love and happiness that unites us all.” Hour (Montreal)

Indonesian cover

“…a book that is full of life and keen observation…extraordinary and rich.” National Post

“This is a rarity, a novel that transforms expectations. A hugely ambitious work executed with deceptive ease…utterly convincing, able to transport us behind closed borders and back again…”

“Gibb’s most obvious achievement is to disprove the lunatic notion that in order to write authoratively about a culture, you have to be born into it…With Sweetness in the Belly, you know something other than lived experience is at work, and that something is a roving mind, a questing heart. Watching them land like butterflies on raw truth is a marvelous sight to behold.” Montreal Gazette

“Camilla Gibb’s integration of history and fiction in Sweetness in the Belly is superb…She’s digested her research so finely you’d swear she lived in the places and through the years she describes…But Gibb’s crowning achievement is a knack for creating believable historical characters. Characters whose credibility is anchored by the convincing commonplace of their lives.” Winnipeg Free Press

” With Sweetness in the Belly, Camilla Gibb offers persuasive testimony about her ambition as a novelist. . . . This novel is impressive for its geographic and thematic broadness alone. Gibb makes it that much more remarkable with the careful attention she gives to the psychology of belonging.” The Vancouver Sun

“[Gibb] demonstrates that rare combination of compassion and nerve.” Now Magazine

“A dynamic tapestry of one woman’s life…leaves the reader with a sweetness that comes from something fresh and new.” Quill and Quire

“This complex tale about exile, romance and human rights combines the authority of Gibb’s scholarship in social anthropology with the lushness of her fictional vision.” Elle Canada

“A marvelous, highly absorbing read bound to strike up conversations at award time.” Ottawa Citizen

“A richly textured novel…filled with lush detail.” Xtra Magazine

“…works like a charm…At once concrete and magical, the novel is vivid with the smells and tastes of lives lived within the city walls…like the people in them…these world s enter our heads, refusing to go away.” The Toronto Star

“Descriptions of individuals surface, glow and are integrated seamlessly into the narrative web. Incidents are described with punch and clarity, leaving an unforgettable impression of life in a far and distant part of the world.” Southwest Magazine

“Lilly is alive and breathing on the page; her voice still wends its way through one’s consciousness several months after reading. In Gibb’s capable hands, Sweetness in the Belly is not only relevant but also elegant and haunting. Sweet indeed.” Women’s Post

“A beautifully crafted novel, Sweetness in the Belly transcends the boundaries that are defined by the propaganda makers that pit Islam and the West against one another. Instead of focusing on the fear and mistrust orchestrated by those who profit the most from hatred and war, Gibb writes from the heart, revealing what is both sublime and common in every culture in the world: the yearning for love and happiness that unites us all.” Hour.ca