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We learn in the author's end notes that she loosely based this novel on her father's story. I think this is what brings the truth through in the characters and keeps the story from melting into an unbelievable tale of happily ever after winning out over all. The main character is Kathmiya, a poor marsh girl who is sent away from her family to be a maid in Basra. The book takes us through her struggle to find a husband and her befriending of Shafiq, a Jewish boy whose family she works for. The story intertwines the stories of these two teens, Shafiq's neighbor and friend, Omar who is Muslim, as well as Kathmiya's history and that of her mother and father.

Each of the character's lives interact in some way, sometimes in a surprising way. The end leaves it up to the reader to decide if lovers are reunited or relationships withstand.

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I tend to like endings nice and tied up so this was a little frustrating but at the same time it allows you to imagine a happily ever after ending The book read nicely and was captivating enough to make me want to pick it up each night, yet I don't find myself loving it. It was a good read but nothing spectacular.

Sweet dates in basra book review

The time and place was educational for me and I would be willing to recommend it to readers who enjoy fiction set in the Middle East, especially during particularly historical times. Set amidst vague historical references and experiences, the importance of friendship, family, and culture is clear. While it remains a decent story, it lacks the intensity. The story was good and the main characters were likeable.

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I think under normal circumstances, it would have been a quick read. As a teen, instead of being married off as expected, she is sent by her alcoholic father to Basra as a maid to bring money into the family. In additional to the culture shock of life in the city, Kathmiya is tortured by family secrets: why does her father not love her like her older sister, Fatimah; why does no one want to see her married; what are the items left to her mother and her by the American missionaries for whom her mother used to work?

In her loneliness, Kathimiya turns to friendship with a young Jewish boy, despite the death sentence it would mean if anyone discovered their relationship. Shafiq has grown up with a seamless Iraqi-Jewish identity, but that identity is challenged throughout his adolesence by WWII, one brother's Zionism, another brother's Communism, and the collapse of Iraqi society as Britian becomes an enemy.

Sweet Dates in Basra: A Novel

The story is a page-turner, but what I found even more appealing was the deft way in which the author created complex characters. Although Kathimiya and Shafiq are caught in a familiar forbidden-love situation, the characters themselves are far from stereotypical, with compex personalities and unexpected facets. Even minor characters are well-drawn and interesting. More than just a love story it described an Iraq I did not know about, one in which other religions could live side by side. I think of Iraq as a Muslim country and so I find it fascinating to learn a small portion of their history.

It had the same feel as say, The Kite Runner. The childhood antics were cute and sweet, and at the same time you see another side of their world during this time. I was hoping it would progress through the ages, but it was stuck in the teen years. I liked the story all together, but it did seem a little slow. I was hoping for more at the end that would tell of what happened after. It just seemed that there was no closure. I can say the characters were engaging. I did feel as though the development of the plot over time was a bit choppy in parts.

The novel gave me insight into Iraq's history, and I enjoyed the character development. Set in Iraq in the s, it conjures an era not often written about; the intrusion of Hitler's ideology into Iraq. Set against this larger backdrop is the deep, abiding friendship of two neighboring families, one Jewish, one Muslim.

Their sons, Shafiq and Omar, grow up calling one another "brother. In addition to the friendship between Shafiq and Omar, it also explores Shafiq's forbidden feelings for a Marsh Arab maid. Themes of religious division and unity of those of different religions as well as the role of honor in Middle East culture, are explored honestly and with good historical detail. The plot was fascinating, although there were some twists that could be seen coming, and the writing lush and descriptive.

A very good read. Part star-crossed lovers, part history lesson, I didn't love it, but it did keep me intrigued enough to finish.


Shi'ites, Shia, Jews, Christians living next to each other as friends and neighbors. Their childhood is idyllic and they live as much in each other's family as their own. The reader grows with these 2 boys, their sorrow when the father of one of the boys dies, their thrill when a sister marries, their anger when a suitor to a sister proves to be a liar and a cheat, and their fear when they start to see their community start to fray at the edges with growing political and racial unrest.

As the majority of Arab Iraqis start persecuting the Jews who were their friends,looting their homes and businesses, there are some who understand that what's happening to the country is madness and wrong, stand up for their friends, provide shelter, food and protection, even at the threat of their own safety. What was heartening were the moments when individuals helped others regardless of faith and race, not expecting or wanting repayment, but offering their hand just because they cared and because it was the right thing to do.

What was inspiring were the determination and resilience by people who refused to give up or give in to persecution. In the background and adding some sweetness to the main story of these 2 boys who become men, is an ill-fated romance between a Midaan servant and the Jewish boy. Why was she sent out to work while her drunken father found a husband for her sister? Why does her mother not stand up for her, and what is the mystery behind the book that was left to her, a book written in a language she does not understand, and the strange looking dinar? Will she find a way to find a husband and have children?

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I loved this book. I couldn't put it down after I started it. It made me cry, it made me laugh, it made me sad, the injustices angered me and the sweetness touched me. One country, several different cultures and World War II threatening to divide neighbours, Sweet Dates In Basra by Jessica Jiji is an intricately woven novel of the tumultuous s in Iraq, specifically, in Basra and the power of love and friendship, which transcends cultural barriers.

The book is an elegant story of three families, one Sunni, one Jewish, and one Midaan, friends despite the turbulent times, societal demands, and cultural differences, and one I could not put down. The story details the lives of Omar, Shafiq, and Kathmiya, as well as their families and friends, each from different cultures yet all sharing a love of their country and yearning for happiness and peace. Written with exquisitely vivid imagery, the reader is transported to Basra's marketplace, homes, and to the marshlands of Iraq, where the details of sight, sound and smell are almost tangible for the reader.

Each character is richly written to the point where the reader will feel as though these families are quite real. Sweet Dates in Basra is a masterfully written tale historically rich in detail and viewpoints, deep, lasting friendships and forbidden love.

Sweet Dates in Basra is a novel that draws the reader into another time and place and one that is difficult to leave. I highly recommend, as in find a copy to read now, Sweet Dates in Basra to all readers and believe this to be an excellent choice for a book discussion group. Once you have the characters in place, though, what plays out is a beautiful, and sometimes terrible, tale about a culture in which violating societal norms can cost you dearly, and not only you; your actions can hurt and even ruin those you love the most. At its core are a problematic love story and, peripherally, the situation of Iraqi Jews at the middle of the 20th century.

The two families at the forefront, one Jewish, the other Muslim, are bound together not only by their adjoining courtyards, but by their neighborly love for one another. The fact that they have different religions matters little - they both take from each other's cultures and give of their own.

It's the love for family that binds them together, regardless of any political and worldly agenda. Jiji has loosely based her story around her father's experiences and it shows - there is an authenticity to her characters and place that is difficult to fake. A few times she looks like she will be coming close to being sentimental, but she pulls back just in time and is true to her characters without the story becoming implausible.

The depiction of cultural norms, the emphasis on honor to the point of death , the conniving and bickering, along with the smells and sounds of the shuk, the war, and the Farhud are all skillfully woven together to tell a tale about love and friendship that rises above religion, culture or political perspective. I needn't have been concerned.

Jiji seamlessly wound a history lesson into her story of forbidden love, educating the reader while at the same time spinning a creative tale of fmaily and friendship. Kathmiya, a young teen sent to town from the marshes to work as a maid and earn money for the family, cannot understand why her father doesn't love her as much as her sister, or why he will not permit her to marry and live a normal life. In her loneliness, she turns to a friendship with Sharif, a young Jewish boy, though it would mean a death sentence were anyone to discover their relationship.

The novel starts with a barrage of characters that take a bit of time to sort out; once the family trees are clear, however, Jiji's story is a depiction of culture both beautiful and terrible.