Sweet Dates in Basra

A Novel By

Jessica Jiji

Jessica-Jji-Sweet Dates in Basra-v2

About the book

About The Book

Sweet dates in basra - A novel

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 asset is her exquisite beauty which brings 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.



"I wish to emphasize the importance of this novel for its positive and perceptive characterization of Arabs and Muslims and its very welcome, refreshing American view of Islamic people."

Prof. Saadi Simawe

Author of Out of the Lamp and editor of Iraqi Poetry Today

"Far from the harsh reality of war and destruction we associate with Iraq, this is a romantic tale set in the southern city of Basra, known as the Venice of the East, in the 1940’s. Infused with love and longing, it weaves a colorful tapestry of life in that multilayered society with all its charms—family life, street life, markets, foods and celebrations—a story that is rich in detail and highly absorbing."

Yvette Raby

Co-author of The Lost World of Egyptian Jews

"Sweet Dates in Basra is a wonderfully written story that will capture the heart of anyone who reads it.  While it deals with some heavy issues, Jiji’s writing is such that they never weigh the reader down.  It’s a charming novel that anyone interested in other cultures should definitely pick up."

S. Krishna’s Books


"After her very modern debut, Diamonds Take Forever (2005), Jiji takes a trip into the past, specifically Iraq circa World War II. Next-door neighbors Sharif, a Jewish boy, and Omar, a Muslim one, are the best of friends and enjoy an idyllic childhood in Basra until Hitler’s shadow falls across the country, inciting terrible riots and forcing Iraqi Jews into hiding. The danger passes, but personal risks arise when Sharif falls in love with a beautiful Muslim maid named Kathmiya. Kathmiya longs for the safety of a traditional marriage and can’t understand why her parents refuse to arrange one for her. Though Sharif wants nothing more than to be with Kathmiya, he starts to wonder if his best chance for a prosperous future lies outside of Iraq, especially after his rebellious middle brother endangers the whole family by running off to join the Communist party. 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."

Kristine Huntley


"A reminder of the power of the heart over the strictures of tradition."

Ariel Sabar

Author of My Father’s Paradise

"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

"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."

Rundpinne Book Review


"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."

One Swede Read


"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 i s sent to work as a maid in the city of Basra, where her fre quent visits to ma rriage 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 Ara b… [T]he cultural perspective and setting are a nice break from the wartime norm, as is the unexpected ending."

Publishers Weekly


"An engaging story, deftly written, in a country and culture far different from my own. So when turning the last page, I’ve been entertained; moved far afield from my present life; learned something about the world; learned something about another culture and people; and been given the gift of increased empathy and compassion where little previously existed."



The story of family and friendship, tradition and hardship, violence and conflict, in 1941 Iraq with tensions brewing between Muslims and Jews. And more than that it is the story of love that can blossom above and beyond it all without respect to class and religion because the heart wants what it wants. But can it ever have what it wants in the end?

Spoiler below………

"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 the characters and keeps the story from melting into an unbelievable tale of happily ever after winning out over all."

Keri Kinnic Reads

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Jessica-Jji-Sweet Dates in Basra-v2

Sweet dates in basra - A novel

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