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Pickle Me This

February 26, 2006

Sweetness in the Belly

I am not proud that I don’t read a lot of international fiction- a sad fact that limits me as a reader, a writer, and a human being. I can think of a few translations I’ve read during the past while, so I am not the uberculprit- however I must admit that sometimes I find books in translation awkward to read, and that the “novel” form can vary so much that novels from other cultures do not always deliver what I look for in a book. I don’t always read the books that I “should” read, because life is little and I read for pleasure. And there is my defense, but in short, I am a bit ashamed of it all.

So there it stands, but today I did finish reading Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb. And whadda book, oh my goodness. I closed it finally with such a surge of teary-eyed joy and sadness. If you have ever wanted to read a book, read this one. Full stop. It is a thing of beauty, an educative tool, a small-world maker and a pleasure to read. Camilla Gibb is a Canadian writer who did extensive field work in Ethiopia during the 1990s. She has created a masterpiece, the story of Lilly, a white Muslim woman living in the Ethiopian city of Harar during the 1970s. The story goes back and forth between her life there, and her “present” in 1980s London. You wouldn’t call Gibb the Bob Geldof of the literary set (less histrionics) but her story made Africa and Ethiopia real to me like nothing else ever has before. Lilly- the inside outsider- made the story so accessible. She was my portal into that world, and I so appreciated the opportunity. What a fascinating literary device- one that must be in amazingly adept hands in order to be fully effective. And oh yes, it is.

None of this means I don’t still suck- I just feel a little more awake than I did before.

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