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"Sweetness in the Belly" is written in the backdrop of Ethiopian Revolution. It is the story of a woman, who is the child of hippy parents and is forced by circumstances to take on different journeys in order to get spiritual satisfaction. Lilly is presented to the readers as a child of hippy parents. This is important as points to one of the themes of the novel. It points to the journey. It is the story of a person who is torn between the East and the West. It narrates the spiritual struggle of Lilly, the main character, to find identity, peace, compassion and love.
The book is written by a non-Muslim but it gives a better understanding of Islam. It helps the reader to understand the mindset of the traditional Muslim world. This information is quite helpful in the backdrop of terrorism and Islam Phobia prevailing in the West.
The novel "Sweetness in the Belly" is about a young woman Lily, who was born of hippy parents. Her parents move on from one place to another. They never stay for a long period of time anywhere. Lilly has to keep on travelling with her parents. She got her first real shock in the form of mysterious murder of her parents at Morocco. From this point she is taken by a Muslim convert, who happens to be the best friend of Lilly's parents. This is the turning point of her life. She is very much impressed by the religion Islam. She wants spiritual compassion and satisfaction and in order to gain them she goes on pilgrimage to Ethiopian city of Harar. Here she is introduced to the misery of human life. She comes to know about hunger, poverty, hatred, violence, ignorance and suspicion. Among all these dark and evil things she finds a man, Dr. Aziz, who is total contrast to the situation around Lilly. After revolution in Ethiopia, Lilly has to leave for England. At this point her love makes a decision and he prefers love for his land rather his own love, Lilly.
She is in London and working as a nurse. She always looks at the list of the people, who have fled from Ethiopia in hope of finding the name of Dr. Aziz. Here she is in the company of Amina, her best friend. Both help each other to cling to their values and traditions. They help each other to face the problems posed by the city of London. Lilly finds some relief by having friendship with a Pakistani doctor.
The novel has multiple themes. The writer has touched upon different aspects of life. All these form the themes of the novel. The constant journey of the main character is pointing towards the continuous journey in order to fulfill the spiritual needs. It is one of the central themes presented in the novel. The novel is also exploring the theme of African politics and poverty. It tells about the miseries and suffering of the common people. The writer has also presented the religion Islam. Through Lilly we come to know about a different picture of Islam, which is a source of guidance and inspiration for her.
Lilly is presented to the readers as a child of hippy parents. This is important as points to one of the themes of the novel. It points to the journey. The writer has narrated both physical and spiritual journey of Lilly in order to tell how a person can attain spiritual goals. It is a difficult journey but nonetheless carried out by an orphaned child, who is facing not only the loss of her parents but also the trust deficit which her constant movement from one place to another has created.
The writer takes the readers in two worlds. The setting of the novel is in Africa and London. Both these places are representative of two different sets of values. Lilly is torn between these two different values and culture. Her past is in Africa, she is presently in London and her foreseeable future is in London. She wants to carry on with her past but her present is creating lot of hindrances in this journey. During this time of trouble she has in her company Amina and friendship of a Pakistani doctor.
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This journey of Lilly is not confined to physical limits. During her travelling she comes across different experiences making her sager, sadder and stronger. The journey from Morocco, to Ethiopia and to London is different phases of Lilly spiritual journey. At Morocco she comes across the tragic death of her parents. She finds her refuge in Islam and in order to move forward she takes on journey to Ethiopia. This place introduces new things to her. She is forced to live a miserable life in Ethiopia, reminding the readers of the hardships faced by Bilal thousands of years ago when Islam was introduced. The dark and evil sides of humans are presented in this phase of her journey. At this gloomy place she finds her love in the shape of Dr. Aziz. This is a new lesson for Lilly, who learns that even at the darkest hours one should not lose hope and can find light. Lilly finds the light of Love but this proves short lived. Political situation forces her to leave Ethiopia and Lilly is in London. Here she works as a nurse, healing others in order to be healed. She finds another woman, Amina facing nearly the same fate. Both of them have fled from Ethiopia and now are in London. This new city offers freedom, liberty and openness. This is in total contrast to the life of Ethiopia. All this freedom is a big challenge for Lilly. She is in a fix; where to go? Who to sought help from? This spiritual struggle at last ends in a positive note for Lilly. She understands the true meaning of religion and finds way for herself. She takes on all the challenges posed by the life of London. In this struggle or "Jihad" she is accompanied by Amina and a Pakistani doctor.
Setting of the novel is in different countries. This use of setting is significant in order to display the theme of multicultural society. The last phase of the story is in London, a true metropolitan city. This beautiful usage of setting by the writer is conveying the theme of the novel, which is the problem of identity faced by a person in multicultural society. Lilly is in search of identity and this point is emphasized by the fact that Lilly gets different experiences of life at different countries. From her birth to her feeding to her walking all these happened in different European countries. From her birth she is in journey and this journey keeps on through out the novel, whether physically or spiritually. The setting in a small town of Harir is also important as it points to the theme of African politics. It tells the readers about the hardships and sufferings of common people. It points to the miserable lives of common African people, who suffer because of the brutal politics of few strong people.
"Sweetness in the Belly" is a well written work of fiction. It combines historical facts with human emotions in order to convey different themes. The writer finishes the story on a positive note as Lilly is able to confront the challenges of life and she has faith. Her heart is broken but reader does not feel distress due to the lost love of Lilly. In fact the reader feels satisfied by the fact that despite all the hardships Lilly has attained her spiritual goals and she can move on in the future with confidence.
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