Sweet Dates in Basra: A Novel
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Sweet Dates in Basra: A Novel

3.8 9
by Jessica Jiji
     
 

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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

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Jiji (Diamonds Take Forever) explores the ties that bind and break family, friendship, and love in 1941 Iraq. Heartbroken that her family won't allow her to marry at 13 and be “ushered to the protection of a new home under the guard of a stern husband in the dewy marshlands north of Basra,” Kathmiya Mahmoud is sent to work as a maid in the city of Basra, where her frequent visits to marriage brokers turn up no prospective husbands. Kathmiya begins fantasizing about Shafiq, her mistress's younger brother, and though the attraction is mutual, there's a massive cultural divide between his Iraqi Jewish family and her identity as a Marsh Arab. This chaste historical romance is densely populated and has trouble finding its way through a thicket of subplots, but the cultural perspective and setting are a nice break from the wartime norm, as is the unexpected ending. (May)
Booklist
“Jiji does a remarkable job of evoking 1940s Iraq in her novel, from the colorful markets to the remote marshes, making for a vibrant read.”
Yvette Raby
“Infused with love and longing, Sweet Dates in Basra weaves a colorful tapestry of life in a multilayered society with all of its charms—family life, street life, markets, foods, and celebrations—a story that is rich in detail and highly absorbing.”
Ariel Sabar
“Jiji’s breezy tale of star-crossed love is a reminder of the power of the heart over the strictures of tradition.”
Professor Saadi Simawe
“This novel is a powerful love poem. American readers will be fascinated by the solidarity and comradeship between the Muslim and Jewish families as they suffer crisis after crisis.”
Naim Kattan
“Sweet Dates in Basra is a moving novel which brings to life years of friendship and understanding, conflict and violence between Jews and Muslims in Basra. In this story of love and search for identity, Jessica Jiji succeeds fully in capturing passions, depth of feeling, and strong relationships beyond ethnic and religious differences.”
Library Journal
In her second novel (after Diamonds Take Forever), Jiji lovingly re-creates a moment in Iraqi history when Muslims and Jews could be not only neighbors but also friends. During World War II, two boys begin passing notes through a hole in the courtyard wall between their homes. Shafiq is Jewish, Omar is Muslim, and together, as blood brothers, they manage to get into constant mischief. Against this backdrop of friendship, however, is growing Iraqi nationalism in many forms. Communists and Royalists fight each other but view the British as the enemy occupier. Sympathy for Hitler, as well as anti-Zionist fervor, leads to murderous anti-Jewish riots. Later, in adolescence, as their closeness continues, each boy must deal with his love for an unobtainable young woman. VERDICT This bittersweet story, based on the life of the author's father, will resonate with readers who believe that Muslims and Jews can find common ground in the Middle East. Fans of Lucette Lagnado's memoir The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, Andre Acimen's Out of Egypt, and Gina Nahai's novels of Jewish Iran may also find this title interesting.—Andrea Kempf, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061689307
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
04/27/2010
Pages:
347
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

The daughter of an Iraqi immigrant, Jessica Jiji is a speechwriter for the secretary-general of the United Nations. Her first novel, Diamonds Take Forever, was published in 2005. She lives in New York City with her husband and three sons.

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