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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 assether exquisite beautybrings 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.
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.
“The cultural perspective and setting are a nice break from the wartime norm, as is the unexpected ending.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
-Yvette Raby, coauthor of The Lost World of the Egyptian Jews
“Jiji’s breezy tale of star-crossed love is a reminder of the power of the heart over the strictures of tradition.”
-Ariel Sabar, author of My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq
“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.”
-Professor Saadi Simawe, author of Out of the Lamp and editor of Iraqi Poetry Today
“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.”
-Naim Kattan, author of Farewell Babylon: Coming of Age in Jewish Baghdad