It seems like forever since I started this gorgeous book. Inexplicably, it took me weeks to get through, and not because it was boring or bad in any way. I can’t think of a person I wouldn’t recommend it to, but I have difficulty trying to write (crap) while reading (excellent, prize-winning) fiction.
Call it an inferiority complex.
I believe the main character, Lilly, is the loneliest literary character I have ever come across. She fits in nowhere. Have I said that before? In so many ways, this is a tale of Lilly’s journey to feeling part of something.
Or maybe not. Maybe it’s the journey from belonging somewhere to belonging nowhere.
Whatever the case, Camilla Gibb’s beautiful prose throws question on what makes home home. What makes heritage heritage. What makes faith faith.
I can’t sort out whether Lilly’s love drives her, or her imagination. It’s as though she’s possessed by memory…. I can’t sort out whether it makes any sense for someone to love another for so long without any real hope of seeing that other person again.
But Lilly is not the only fascinating character in this book.
(I’m sorry, am I gushing about how great this book is? I can’t help it.)
There is, for example, Amina, Lilly’s friend and “co-wife” (only a joke, Lilly is not actually a co-wife). At first Amina is like Lilly, a woman without a proper place. But her children centre her. Later, she begins to give up tradition in a way Lilly can’t (because Lilly doesn’t just identify with tradition, but uses it to make her own identity?). Later still, she is swayed to a different kind of Islam, perhaps in keeping with another political comment altogether.
At the end, Gibb’s Lilly questions the future of Islam in a multicultural society. The questions, the hints, remind me of the end of the movie Munich, when the World Trade Centre towers -- still standing and at least two decades before their destruction -- loom. Their appearance at the edge of the screen is supposed to tell us something. A comment I don't know how to best put my finger on.