It is closing in on Christmas here; I'm reminded of this every day by the (alarming? over-the-top?) presence of bright decorations in the foyer of my apartment building, even blocking the elevators. And, this morning.... afternoon.... snow blows around outside my window.
But I am reading about a land where heat settles on the skin. Camilla Gibb's tale of an outsider in Ethiopia is seeping into my dreams.
Sweetness in the Belly is an absolutely gorgeous novel. Gibb writes about Lily, a British woman whose parents take her to Africa as a child, leave her with a Muslim scholar in Morocco, and then die. (Not ruining anything for you, that's the intro.) From there, she pursues her own studies of Islam across the continent to Ethiopia. At the same time, the reader is introduced to her several years later in the United Kingdom.
There's so much loneliness in Lily's voice, both in Ethiopia and London. Meanwhile, Gibb seems to draw this other world so perfectly. Obviously, I've never been there. But I feel like I'm there when I'm reading it -- take a look at this:
We took off our shoes and entered the last room, a place of discretion, dark and small, without windows. I felt burlap beneath my feet and could barely make out faces, but I could see the forms of several people, both young men and women, reclining against pillows lining the walls. In the middle of the room was an enormous pile of qat amassed on a scarf, and beside it, a tray with two thermoses of tea, a jug of cold water, plastic cups with daisies printed on them and the ubiquitous clay pot for burning incense. (p. 115)
It's just so fascinating, and really the best kind of book -- escape and intelligence weaved through a really strong voice.