Raised in a Sufi shrine in Morocco after the early death of her parents, Lilly journeys to Harar, Ethiopia at the age of sixteen and settles into the home of a local woman. While she has trouble being trusted by the local people because of her white skin (which automatically labels her a foreigner), her devotion to Islam eventually allows her to teach Qur’an to many of the neighborhood children. Thus is her life until she falls in love with a doctor, himself equally seen as an outsider despite his grand ideas for change in Ethiopia. As the revolution escalates, Lilly soon escapes to England where she must try to bring together her past and her future, or face that this cannot be done.
I’ve heard such good things about this book, and while I did enjoy it, I don’t think it lived up to its reputation. A lot of it seemed underdeveloped, probably because Gibb is writing about topics she has no direct experience with. I thought that was the first rule of writing – write what you know.
That being said, it does seem like Gibb did some good research about the city of Harar, since she had a lot of good details about the people and the layout of the city. This could be because she visited the city at some point, and so has some knowledge of it.
The book is written in a way that switches back and forth between two time periods. I’ve never liked this method of writing because it disrupts the flow of the writing and keeps me from becoming deeply involved in the story. As for the characters, they were all pretty uninspiring.
I wish I could recommend this one, but I cannot. I’m not sure how it received so many 5 and 4-star ratings on Goodreads. See what others are saying: