Death leaves an unusual family unmoored

March 19, 2006|By VICTORIA A. BROWNWORTH | VICTORIA A. BROWNWORTH,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Luck

Joan Barfoot

Sweetness in the Belly

Camilla Gibb

Penguin / 338 pages / $23.95

What does it mean to be a refugee, and how does one survive a life of such displacement? Wherever she goes, Lilly, the narrator of Sweetness in the Belly, is a foreigner. Orphaned when her British hippie parents, nomads in Morocco, are killed, Lilly grows up at the shrine where her parents left her and becomes a Muslim. When political strife invades Morocco, she flees to Harar, Ethiopia, where she learns a new language and a new culture, only to have to flee once again, this time to England - technically her homeland - but where in London, as a white Muslim woman, she remains unwelcome in two cultures. Lilly lives among other Ethiopian refugees, becomes a nurse and finds constant challenges to her faith while she clings to the hope that Aziz, the young Harari doctor she loves, will leave Africa to be with her.

Camilla Gibb weaves a mesmerizing tale that is both heartbreaking and inspiring, in which women endure beyond all odds, faith is constantly tested by modern life, and the innate desire for belonging supersedes and underlines everything even as loss lurks everywhere.

Victoria A. Brownworth, a syndicated columnist, author and editor, teaches writing and film at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

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