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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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“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.”
—Naim Kattan, author of Farewell Babylon

 

Jessica Jiji’s Sweet Dates in Basra is a compelling, poignant, and unforgettable tale of

Overview

“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.”
—Naim Kattan, author of Farewell Babylon

 

Jessica Jiji’s Sweet Dates in Basra is a compelling, poignant, and unforgettable tale of friendship and family, set in Iraq during the second world war. A dramatic departure from Jiji’s previous novel, Diamonds Take Forever, Sweet Dates in Basra brilliantly captures the atmosphere of a volatile Middle East during the previous century and pays tribute to the lost traditions of a once-idyllic world.

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

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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Sweet Dates in Basra 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
sangreal More than 1 year ago
Set against the backdrop of World War II and its effects on the people of Iraq, Sweet Dates in Basra traces the developing relationship between a Marsh Arab girl, Kathmiya and a Jewish boy, Shafiq. Coming from very different cultures and backgrounds, each with their own difficulties in life, they nevertheless manage to forge a connection and fall in love. A second, but equally important, backdrop against which the story's events play out is the relationship between Shafiq and his Muslim next door neighbor, Omar, who grow up as brothers in all but name. The thing which elevates the book to a point way above that of a love story set in an exotic location is the multiple themes which Jessica Jiji develops throughout. Friendship, family, sacrifice, tolerance, identity - both religious and national - unification and idealism are all addressed. This might seem way too ambitious for a single story, but Jiji handles each one with sensitivity, allowing each theme it's moment in the spotlight. The multiple themes echo the confusion of the times, but the writing itself is in no way confused. Instead it highlights the way the all intertwine with each other, much like the personal relationships in the book. There are a large number of supporting characters in the book, which may seem confusing to some readers at first, but a little patience allows for each one to take their place in the narrative. Then there are beautiful details of the links and connections between seemingly disparate persons, underlying the theme of unification and the sense that we are all one people at heart. I particularly loved that I got a history lesson along with the story, yet I never felt like I was being lectured to. Instead, Jiji has seamlessly woven historical information and personal emotion into a beautiful, smooth, well-paced narrative. Of particular interest as well was the information about the Midaan people and culture, written so as to allow the reader to understand Kathmiya's motivations and actions, while leaving the desire to know more about this fascinating people. The difficulties surrounding the partitioning of Pakistan are echoed in the troubles faced by Shafiq and Kathmiya, written with an intensity that left the sense that both sets of events were tumbling to their particular conclusions. Overall, while certainly not as popular as some of the recent stories coming out of this region, Sweet Dates in Basra is a beautiful, moderately easy read, with a powerful story to tell.
jaagjr1 More than 1 year ago
This is a very timely novel set in WWII Iraq in the southern city of Basra.It is a love story between an Iraqi country girl living in the marshes--a "Midaan," and a young Iraqi Jew. It focuses on the daily lives and friendships between neighbors of different relgious groups and people from different social castes. It is a fascinating, poetic, and romantic novel, with WW II as a background. It explains or describes life for the Marsh Arabs that I have never read about in a novel thus far. It explains in detail the strong social and religious barriers that people had to and have to endure in the name of Allah. It is not anti-Muslim at all, as it also portrays the beautiful parts of Islam such as hospitality to strangers, giving to the poor, and sacred rituals of everyday life. The book is very romantic and very poetic.I finished it in one day. I'm the type of guy who likes novels that take place in troubled historical times, like Dr. Zhivago, Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi, etc. a GREAT vacation book. You will thank me for reading it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked this book mainly because of the two cultures discusses and explored. I would recommend this book.
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