Sweet Dates in Basra (Review)

Book cover for "Sweet Dates in Basra" by Jessica Jiji.Title: Sweet Dates in Basra

Author: Jessica Jiji

Narrator: Adriana Sevahn Nichols

Publication Year: 2010

Pages: 368 (audio length: 9 hours 26 minutes)

Genre: Fiction

Source: Audiobook version purchased from Audible.com

From the cover:

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 — her exquisite beauty — 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.

First of all, let me just say – the narrator for this book was fantastic.

I mean, it would probably be just as good of a novel if you read Sweet Dates in Basra as a dead-tree version. But there was just something special about listening to the story as Nichols read it, complete with accents in certain places and deeply authentic emotion throughout.

Having said that, the story itself was also great, as were the characters that Jiji created. I loved reading about the different cultures in 1940s Iraq – both in Basra and in the Marshes. This is a culture and an era in Iraq that I was completely clueless about before I picked up this book, and I really loved getting to learn more about them through the mesmerizing tale of Kathmiya and Shafiq.

I think that most of all, you will love reading Sweet Dates in Basra if you’re looking for a story that is authentic and that pulls no punches, that doesn’t aspire to be a happy-go-lucky story but, rather, to simply tell the truth through a slice-of-life narrative within the confines of a particular time and place. The love stories (not only that of Shafiq and Kathmiya, or even solely romantic ones) and the narratives of other relationships that perhaps didn’t go so well are exquisitely articulated and simply make for a wonderful read.


This book is a part of the Ramadan Reading event happening here this month.

You can find other posts in the series by clicking on the image to the right, or by taking a look at the schedule of posts and reviews.

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