Sweet Dates in Basra

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