Sweet Dates in Basra
by Jiji, Jessica

After two Iraqi families, one Jewish and one Muslim, break through a wall in the 1930s to accommodate a shared water pipe, a Jewish boy falls in love with an Arab maid, whose mother is determined to preserve her daughter's honor in a land where the loss of it can be punishable by death.

After her very modern debut, Diamonds Take Forever (2005), Jiji takes a trip into the past, specifically Iraq circa WWII. 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. Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.

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