As he was tucking her into bed every night, Jessica Jiji’s father used to lull her to sleep with nostalgic tales set in his homeland of Iraq. Tales of a land he knew before he left in 1947 as an 18 year-old, when Iraq was not yet besieged by war, Jews held positions of power in the government, and friends from a rainbow of religions lived together in harmony. Sweet Dates in Basra is Jiji’s tribute to her father’s Iraq.
A compelling, poignant, and unforgettable tale of friendship and family, set in Iraq during the Second World War, Sweet Dates in Basra is 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. It is the redemptive story of two very different cultures and a powerful reminder that no walls can confine the human spirit.
Shafiq is a Jewish boy whose brotherhood with his Muslim neighbor Omar proves that religion is no barrier to friendship. Kathmiya Mahmoud is a young Marsh Arab maiden of the age when her family should be arranging her marriage, but instead they send her to work as a servant in the city of Basra.
In this lost Iraq of the 1940s, a time of rich traditions and converging worlds, Kathmiya meets Shafiq. 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.
“Jiji’s 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 Family’s Past