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"Sweetness in the Belly." A love story in Ethiopia.

Paulos Yrgaw

If the theoretical physicist, Wolfgang Pauli has said, no two sub-atomic particles can have the same quantum number, equally as well, the literary critic and eccentric Jacques Derrida has said, no two readers can have the same interpretation of a given text. Derrida’s overly exhausted coin otherwise known as "Deconstructionism" however, seems to float in the world of Surrealism where the settings and the plot in Gabriel Garcia Marques’ "One hundred years of solitude" and Jose Saramago’s "Blindness" and "The Double" refuse to take the ingenuity of "Deconstructionism" as a matter-of-factly. 

Instead in recent years, as Surrealism receded into the Used Book-Stores, historical novels carried on the band-wagon of Neo-Realism have graced the shelves in Book-Stores. Particularly, after the collapse of the Cold-War, when the erstwhile suppressed catharsis found a vent to gush out the human-condition, historical-novels have become irresistible. 

In the last five months or so, I have had the pleasure of reading books in that nature. Two historical novels on Afghanistan: "The Kite Runner" and "The Book-Seller in Kabul" and "River Town" on China where the latter is a quasi-autobiographical as well. As I read the books, it occurred to me that, the rich history of Ethiopia and at times turbulent with a punctuated water-shed begs for a dedicated and imaginative ink to be narrated on a papyrus. It was by a fluke that I run into a book to that effect in a Book-Store. 

The author, however, did not have to live through the turbulent years in Ethiopia to come up with a highly imaginative narrative to walk the interested reader through a life span of love, adventure, idealism, revolution and redemption. The author, Camilla Gibb is a young rising star amongst the Canadian literary circles where Ethiopians at least this writer is grateful for bringing the human-condition in Ethiopian into the fore. 

The book, "Sweetness in the Belly" which spans three epochs in the Ethiopian relatively recent history is set in Harar where according to the author the two great religions meet not collide. The protagonist Lilly a product of two highly educated Britons, her karma takes her into what the late Edward Said called it the Orient. As she losses her parents to a mysterious accident while she was in the Orient, she was taken for an adaption by an erudite Sheik with tremendous knowledge on Islam and the mystic Sufism. As the British in her losses its grip, she finds a new meaning in Islam and dedicates her life to live her life according to the tenets of Islam. 

Her encounter with Harar in which the good part and formative years of her life is shaped up tells not only her story, it tells the Ethiopian story as well. When she arrives in Harar in the late 60s with a good intention of meeting a reputable Sheik, she stumbles upon an idealist and young physician of a Harari origin whose love for her not only sways her from her otherwise stoic life, she gets also entangled into the then rising political tide where she ended up standing in her own right for the noble cause of the oppressed people of Ethiopia. 
The book takes the reader in a train of political events from the fall of the Emperor to the accidental rise of the Colonel to the triumph of E.P.R.D.F. For people who have never been to Harar including this writer, the book is a remarkable tourist guide where the beauty and cultural sophistication of Harar is incredibly vivid.

As the background of the story clearly reflects the then political reality, some readers can find it a bit harsh and offensive as she gets hard on certain nation(s) in a bid to dramatize the agony of other "lesser" nationalities. 

The author is guided in her effort to write the book by the great Ethiopian luminaries such as the brilliant historian Dr. Bahru Zewde et al. And I must say, they have done a remarkable job. "Sweetness in the Belly" is fun and easy to read above all, it is a book that depicts in a very powerful way the Ethiopian condition, a condition of love, tolerance, endurance, optimism and triumph. 

Paulos Yrgaw
Ottawa, Canada.
Comments: Asimov@yahoo.ca


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