Title: The Sweet Dates in Basra
Author: Jessica Jiji
Publisher: Avon A
Publication Date: April 27, 2010
Paperback: 368 pages
Just when her family should be arranging her marriage, Kathmiya Mahmoud, a young Marsh Arab maiden, is sent from her home in Iraq’s idyllic countryside to the unfamiliar city of Basra, where she must survive on her paltry earnings as a servant. Her only asset—her exquisite beauty—brings more peril than peace. Worse, her mother appears to be keeping a secret about her own mysterious past, one that could threaten Kathmiya’s destiny forever.
In this lost Iraq of the 1940s, a time of rich traditions and converging worlds, Kathmiya meets Shafiq, a Jewish boy whose brotherhood with his Muslim neighbor Omar proves that religion is no barrier to friendship. But in a world where loss of honor is punishable by death, the closeness that grows between Kathmiya and Shafiq becomes dangerous as a doomed love takes root. When British warplanes begin bombing Iraq and the country’s long-simmering tensions explode, the power of an unbreakable boyhood bond and a transcendent love must overcome the deepening fractures of a collapsing society.
Set during the tumultuous years surrounding the Second World War, Sweet Dates in Basra is the redemptive story of two very different cultures, and a powerful reminder that no walls can confine the human spirit.
One country, several different cultures and World War II threatening to divide neighbours, Sweet Dates In Basra by Jessica Jiji is an intricately woven novel of the tumultuous 1940s in Iraq, specifically, in Basra and the power of love and friendship, which transcends cultural barriers. The book is an elegant story of three families, one Sunni, one Jewish, and one Midaan, friends despite the turbulent times, societal demands, and cultural differences, and one I could not put down. The story details the lives of Omar, Shafiq, and Kathmiya, as well as their families and friends, each from different cultures yet all sharing a love of their country and yearning for happiness and peace. Written with exquisitely vivid imagery, the reader is transported to Basra’s marketplace, homes, and to the marshlands of Iraq, where the details of sight, sound and smell are almost tangible for the reader. Each character is richly written to the point where the reader will feel as though these families are quite real. Sweet Dates in Basra is a masterfully written tale historically rich in detail and viewpoints, deep, lasting friendships and forbidden love. Sweet Dates in Basra is a novel that draws the reader into another time and place and one that is difficult to leave. I highly recommend, as in find a copy to read now, Sweet Dates in Basra to all readers and believe this to be an excellent choice for a book discussion group.
Jessica Jiji is the author of Diamonds Take Forever and Sweet Dates in Basra. She also coauthored, with Paul Grossman, three feature-length screenplays: Miss Interpreter, a romantic-comedy-political-thriller about a young UN translator who accidentally stumbles on love and adventure; Queen of the CIA; a screwball comedy about the misadventures of a gay fashion designer recruited by the Agency; and I Married a Shaman, a romantic comedy about a young Korean-American woman whose white-bread husband takes up her mother’s traditional Asian religion—to extremes. Miss Interpreter was optioned under the original title Force for Peace by Lantern Pictures.
I received a complimentary copy of The Sweet Dates in Basra by Jessica Jiji from HaperCollinsPublishers as part of the tour. Receiving a copy in no way reflected my review of aforementioned novel.