Lilly’s parents are English and Irish, and they travel the world with her, living a hippie life. As a result of their choices, she grows up in Morocco and Ethiopia in the 1970s. She also has the rare distinction of being a white Muslim in those African countries. Then Ethiopia becomes an unstable country, and Lilly is forced to return to England. The novel moves us back and forth through time periods and locations, getting to know Lilly, the people around her, and her life.
This is one of my favorite reads of the year so far. A solid five stars for writing, story, and for Lilly herself. Not too far along in the story, I was doing the math to see how old she was compared to me. I was thinking about my childhood friends who grew up in Ethiopia because their parents were missionaries. And most of all, I was trying to find more time to read this book.
Lilly is resilient but entirely human. She believes in herself, despite constantly being questioned by the Africans around her. I’m in awe of the inner strength this character had to make her way in a tangled, insecure world.
Lilly’s story also taught me about the life of refugees. How you feel when you look for someone you love day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out. You never know if they are ignoring you, or unable to find you too. She finds a family of choice and a community in London, but in her heart she’s still African and Ethiopian, and follows those traditions as much as possible.
The author presents a picture of Islam that includes the many gods of Ethiopian traditions. It’s not an orthodox Islamic perspective, based on what the characters say as well as the author’s afterword. It’s a fictional account, although it stirs up controversy among reviewers as to whether it should be closer to their version of accuracy. To me, the importance of including the depth of Lilly’s devotion to the Islam she was taught is what it tells us about her character.
As much as it’s titled “sweetness,” this is a bittersweet and moving book.