Title: Sweet Dates in Basra: A Novel
Author: Jessica Jiji
Release Date: April 27, 2010
Publisher: Avon A
Genre: Multicultural Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
It’s 1941 in Basra, Iraq and Shafiq is having the time of his life with his best friend and next door neighbor, Omar. Though Shafiq’s family is Jewish, the horrors of World War II haven’t visited Iraq. In fact, they are much more concerned about the British stealing Iraqi oil than they are about Nazis.
Kathmiya is breathtakingly beautiful, but cursed for reasons she doesn’t understand. Instead of seeking marriages, like other girls her age, her father has decided she must go into the city to work. Kathmiya reluctantly complies, bewildered as to why she is treated so differently than her beloved sister.
Sweet Dates in Basra is a novel of love and loss, of tragedy and happiness set against the backdrop of world-changing events.
When I was first asked to provide an advance review of Sweet Dates in Basra, I was very excited. I love stories about other cultures, and the Middle East is an great area to read about. However, it also gave me pause; while often beautifully written, books set in the Middle East have a tendency to be dramatic, tragic and very heavy. Therefore, I approached Sweet Dates in Basra with some trepidation, not wanting to be dragged down by weighty subject matter.
Imagine my surprise when I found that Sweet Dates in Basra was a light, sweet novel that was a distinct pleasure to read! Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t “frothy” or “fluffy” – Sweet Dates in Basra deals with some serious subjects, including the treatment of women in the Middle East, Jewish-Muslim relations, and the political turmoil that was occurring at the time. But Jessica Jiji tackles each of theses issues in such a way that the overarching theme of the novel – a simple love story – isn’t overshadowed by these difficulties.
This is really an eye opening book as well. The historical details are impressively written – Jiji manages to create an amazing atmosphere with Sweet Dates in Basra. The reader is sucked into the world she creates. It’s also wonderful to read a book in which the Middle East, and specifically Iraq, is portrayed as a beautiful place. It’s definitely not perfect, but it’s nice to have a positive light shined on an area that is now so volatile and known for prejudice and intolerance.
The character development in Sweet Dates in Basra is a pleasure to witness. The reader watches as Shafiq grows from a somewhat silly (though very smart) boy into a man who takes his destiny into his own hands. Kathmiya is a troubled and sad girl, but as the book progresses, she develops into a confident woman who wants something better for herself. The reader really is drawn into the lives of these characters. It’s difficult to say goodbye to them at the end of the book because they have become old friends.
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.