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Extended Audio Sample Sweet Dates in Basra: A Novel Audiobook, by Jessica Jiji Click for printable size audiobook cover
3.57 out of 53.57 out of 53.57 out of 53.57 out of 53.57 out of 5 3.57 (28 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Jessica Jiji Narrator: Adriana Sevahn Nichols Publisher: HarperCollins Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: April 2010 ISBN: 9780061988660
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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.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “This bittersweet story, based on the life of the author’s father, will resonate with readers who believe that Muslims and Jews can find common ground in the Middle East.”

    Library Journal

  • “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.”

    Booklist

  • “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 Promise

  • “Infused with love and longing, Sweet Dates in Basra weaves a colorful tapestry of life in a multilayered society with all of its charms—family life, street life, markets, foods, and celebrations—a story that is rich in detail and highly absorbing.”

    Yvette Raby, coauthor of The Lost World of the Egyptian Jews

Listener Opinions

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Robin | 2/19/2014

    " I feel like this was a book that suffered for its pacing. It dragged a bit at first, and then towards the end it sped up way too quickly for the storyline. That being said, I really enjoyed the cultural aspects in the story. It was certainly an Iraq I've never seen before. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Lea Ann | 2/17/2014

    " I wanted to like this book. I have been to Iraq and it is impossible to not be aware of its current history but I have long been fascinated with the Middle East in the 1940s. It is probably asking too much to have a novel satisfy that fascination but I still felt like the book didn't give enough of the interesting detail and spent too much time on uninteresting parts. The balance, writing and characters just seemed off. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Cynthia | 2/7/2014

    " Lovely romantic story with plenty of cultural information. Plenty to discuss about Jews, Islam, women, social classes, etc. Enough twists to keep you reading. Quick read. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jennifer | 2/6/2014

    " From my blog...[return][return][return]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 1940s 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. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Kelly | 2/5/2014

    " Loved it! Made me want to travel to the Middle East! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Kristin | 1/17/2014

    " I really enjoyed this book. It's the story of Kathmiya, a village girl sent to Basra, Iraq to earn money for her family (and also a way for them to not arrange her marriage, for reasons that remain a mystery until the end of the book). And Shafiq, a young Jewish boy, friends with his neighbor, Omar, who is Muslim. The book tells the story of all of their relationships with each other during the late 1930s and 1940s. What I enjoyed about the book is that it's not your typical "boy meets girl, falls in love, overcomes obstacles and eventually they run off together." Instead the book really lets you get to know each of the main characters, all of the challenges that each of them face now, and in the future. And you also get to learn about what was happening in Iraq in the 1940s, and how it was impacted by what was happening in WWII (i.e. the Holocaust and the Zionist movement). And what happened in Iraq post-independence (i.e. a lot of inter-religious cooperation and hope). I found the book an interesting read, a beautiful story and the author also has very good writing skills (smooth flow) --no surprise, given that she has been a speechwriter for the Secretary General of the UN. I'd definitely recommend this book for people that enjoy reading novels that open up the world to them (i.e. different countries, cultures and other periods of history), while also enjoying a human story. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Ellie Revert | 1/16/2014

    " An excellent story but very jumbled to me. I really had to work at this book--nearly put it down--glad I didn't. The Iraqi culture is so different from ours---the worst part being how they treat women. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Karen | 1/8/2014

    " Set in Iraq in the 1940's, this is an evocotive, beautifully written story of a forbidden romance and changing times. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Yasmin | 12/30/2013

    " Set during World War II in Basra, Iraq, "Sweet Dates" is a story of the different religions and social classes at the time. Part star-crossed lovers, part history lesson, I didn't love it, but it did keep me intrigued enough to finish. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Ati | 12/27/2013

    " Kind of hard to imagine a jewish person write a book in a muslim person's point of view. Even if they did extensive research. Especially when the setting is in Iraq. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Ahmad | 12/19/2013

    " I have a confession. I judged this book by it's cover..and I'm so glad I did because it was amazing! I was instantly hooked. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Tammi | 11/16/2013

    " Very good read and was free on Nook. Off to find another ebook I'd like to read. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Angel | 11/5/2013

    " This was a beautiful heartbreaking novel. Lyrical and masterfully written by Jessica Jiji. Steeped in tradition, controversy, and most importantly love. This novel evokes pain, longing, anger, fear, joy, love and hope with the best of them. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Carrie | 5/11/2013

    " I particularly liked this book because it involves groups I don't typically think of when I think about Iraq--the Jewish and Marsh Arab communities. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Rena | 3/30/2013

    " This was ok. There is no meat in the story. If I didn't already know some things about that time and place, I don't think I would have got much out of the story. It read like a young adult book in a lot of ways. It seemed dumb down. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Caroline Moran | 3/7/2012

    " Beautifully written, this book brings up issues of family, religion, class, friendship, war, & love. One of my favorites! "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Kathryn | 2/5/2012

    " After a slow start, I found this novel 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. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Tricia Cheung | 1/24/2012

    " Nice story. Set in WWII era Iraq. Basically a Romeo & Juliet, star-crossed lovers type of love story. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Beth | 12/25/2011

    " I didn't expect where it went, but towards the end it got a little predictable. Enjoyed it! Enjoy more, the fact I am an American. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Drewkosztyo | 5/12/2011

    " Our June book club choice. We're delighted to have the author speak at our meeting. And the book was a nice little summer read -- think Iraqi version of "Gone With The Wind." "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Shelly | 3/14/2011

    " Captivating. Love the characters, can't wait to discuss it with my book club. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jessica | 9/5/2010

    " This book was not particularly well written, but the story was very sweet and the Arab Jewish culture depicted was interesting enough to keep me reading. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jari | 8/17/2010

    " I enjoyed how the book was centered around cultural implications; however, the story line seemed to end abruptly. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Beth | 7/21/2010

    " I didn't expect where it went, but towards the end it got a little predictable. Enjoyed it! Enjoy more, the fact I am an American. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Angel | 7/3/2010

    " This was a beautiful heartbreaking novel. Lyrical and masterfully written by Jessica Jiji. Steeped in tradition, controversy, and most importantly love. This novel evokes pain, longing, anger, fear, joy, love and hope with the best of them. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 M | 6/21/2010

    " Maybe it's because I just returned from the middle east but I couldn't get into this book or involved with the characters, who didn't seem real to me and whose names I found confusing. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Drewkosztyo | 6/8/2010

    " Our June book club choice. We're delighted to have the author speak at our meeting. And the book was a nice little summer read -- think Iraqi version of "Gone With The Wind." "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Yasmin | 4/13/2010

    " Set during World War II in Basra, Iraq, "Sweet Dates" is a story of the different religions and social classes at the time. Part star-crossed lovers, part history lesson, I didn't love it, but it did keep me intrigued enough to finish. "

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About the Author

The daughter of an Iraqi immigrant, Jessica Jiji is a speechwriter for the secretary-general of the United Nations. Her first novel, Diamonds Take Forever, was published in 2005. She lives in New York City with her husband and three sons.

About the Narrator

Adriana Sevahn Nichols, a native New Yorker, is an award-winning actress and playwright. Her play Night over Erzinga was nominated for the William Saroyan Prize for Playwriting in 2012. Her tour de force solo performance piece, Taking Flight, has been thrilling audiences across the country since opening in Los Angeles in 2006. One of Sevahn Nichols’ biggest passions is bringing theater and young people together to give them the opportunity to unleash and express their full creative potential. She has taught workshops nationally and internationally—most recently at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, CalArts, and the Orran center for at-risk youth in Yerevan, Armenia—and continues to lead transformational workshops for teenage girls living in group homes in Los Angeles.