Jennifer Reese
March 08, 2006 AT 05:00 AM EST

Sweetness in the Belly

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Camilla Gibb
publisher
Penguin
genre
Fiction

We gave it an B-

Orphaned at 8 when her British hippie parents are murdered, Lilly, the narrator of this odd, melancholy novel, grows up with a poor family in Ethiopia in the 1970s. (Her unforgivably flaky guardian more or less abandons her there.) She spends her days sweeping up goat feces, teaching local kids to read, and observing firsthand the horrors of female circumcision. Ethnic tensions mount, Lilly falls in love with an idealistic local doctor, and Ethiopia slides into political chaos. In Sweetness in the Belly, Camilla Gibb, a social anthropologist, offers a vivid National Geographic snapshot of a culture in crisis, but the story she hangs on this richly evoked backdrop is both wildly implausible and strangely wan.

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