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Sherry Jones – The Jewel of Medina

November 26, 2008

LibraryThing Early Reviewers147. The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones (2008)

Length: 432 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Started: 19 November 2008
Finished: 21 November 2008

Sheesh, so much scandal!
Muhammad’s favorite wife in
Islam’s early days.

The LibraryThing Early Reviewer algorithm must really think I’ve got a thing for books written from the perspective of one of the wives of the founder of a polygynous religion… The last ER book I got was The 19th Wife, back in May, and then nothing until this one.

Summary: This book is essentially a love story set amidst the early days of Islam. It’s told from the point of view of A’isha bint Abi Bakr, the child bride of the Prophet Muhammad. Betrothed at six, married at nine, and widowed at nineteen, A’isha wanted nothing more than to be a warrior, fighting to protect her loved ones and her infant religion against the rival tribes that want to destroy it. However, in a time and society where women were treated as property, A’isha chafed against the restrictions put on her due to her gender, struggled to maintain her position as head wife as Muhammad’s harem increased in size, and ultimately used her independent spirit to become Muhammad’s favorite, as well as his political adviser and confidant.

Review: There has been a mighty kerfluffle surrounding publication of this book (if you haven’t heard about it, there’s a pretty good summary of things on Wikipedia), but after having read it, I kind of fail to see what the hubbub is all about. Granted, I am not Muslim, but from an outsider’s point of view, I think that Sherry Jones was actually very respectful towards early Islam, and towards Muhammad in particular. Muhammad is painted very clearly as a man, with a man’s weaknesses and vices, which means that while he’s certainly portrayed as being wise and holy, he’s also shown to be flawed and fallible – human, in other words. Secondly, A’isha is a relatively important and contentious figure in the Sunni/Shi’ite split, so this book’s sympathetic portrayal of her automatically alienates a large chunk of the potential readership. I can’t say whether either of these things are technically blasphemous under the tenets of Islam, but I certainly don’t think either of them are meant to be disrespectful – quite the contrary, in fact.

I also don’t think the book itself is worthy of so much kerfluffle as novels go. It was a pretty standard historical romance: seemingly mis-matched man and woman overcoming obstacles and temptations, with true love winning out in the end, etc., etc. There was an interesting story to be told here about women and women’s rights, love and duty and freedom, but I felt like it never quite reached its potential, getting lost instead in a seemingly never-ending stream of jealous bickering and brattishness. The language, too, worked against the story, with somewhat stilted dialogue, an over-reliance on internal monologuing, and an overabundance of florid metaphors.

Despite the less-than-stellar writing and plotting, I did enjoy the setting of the novel. I knew very little (almost nothing, in truth) about the foundation of Islam, and this book was a pretty palatable way to learn some religious history. While it certainly wasn’t a terrible read, neither was it a great one, and that unexceptional-ness was its downfall; it could have (and should have) been much more than it was. On the whole, though, I think this book is going to sell way more copies based on the controversy surrounding it than it ever would on the strength of its own merit. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Worth reading if you want to know what the controversy’s all about… but I’d get it from the library instead of the bookstore.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Jewel of Medina website; A nice post from Kim summing up the controversy

Other Reviews: A Reader’s Respite
Did I miss your review? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Scandal blew in on the errant wind when I rode into Medina clutching Safwan’s waist.

Vocab:

  • p. 97: “To lighten my complexion, I smoothed a lotion made with gypsum on my face, and I lined my eyelids with collyrium, using a lavender stem to spread the dark paste.” – A medicinal lotion applied to the eye; any preparation for the eye.
    .
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11 Comments leave one →
  1. November 26, 2008 12:03 pm

    It sounds like the controversy is the biggest thing going for this book. Thanks for the great review.

  2. November 26, 2008 1:50 pm

    it sure does look like a book i would want to read.. at least to learn more about the controversy and the time during which the book is set..and i love that reco of yours..about taking it from the library..:) shall follow your advice:)

  3. November 26, 2008 2:36 pm

    bermudaonion – I’m a little bit baffled by the whole controversy, since I really don’t think the book itself is all that much to get worked up over. A lot of the comments seem like they’re coming from people who either didn’t read the book, or who read it very differently than I did.

    Ramya – I definitely understand the urge to read stuff just to know what all of the hubbub’s about. I think if you go into this book with reasonable expectations about what you’re going to get, it should be fine.

  4. November 26, 2008 3:12 pm

    I like your review and think you’re spot on. I’ll add a link to your review at the bottom of mine.

    It’s not a terrible novel. It’s just….average. If that offends the author (as I apparently did), I’m sorry. It’s just true. Nothing wrong with an average novel.

    Nicely written review!

  5. November 26, 2008 8:21 pm

    For some reason, I’m totally disinterested in this book. But, I love the word “kerfuffle”.

  6. November 26, 2008 9:46 pm

    Hey, Nicki, you taught me a new word! Kerfluffle!

  7. November 26, 2008 9:58 pm

    Michele – “Nothing wrong with an average novel.” It’s true! For this book, I think a lot of people are making the assumption that Important, Timely, and Controversial Subject = Great Literature, which in this case didn’t quite pan out.

    Nancy – I don’t mean to be dismissive of people who have a legitimate grievance with this book, but I really don’t see what all the fuss is about… which is a perfect time to use kerfluffle!

    Shana – After two people in a row commented on it, I had to go and actually look it up to make sure I was using it correctly! Turns out that etymologically, it was originally “kerfuffle,” and “kerfluffle” is a more recent variant, but both are correct, and I like it better with the extra L.

  8. November 27, 2008 6:23 am

    Not really my area of interest but it certainly sounds different!

  9. November 29, 2008 10:15 am

    Jen – I think what really makes this book unique is the setting and the people involved… otherwise, it’s a fairly standard historical romance.

  10. December 8, 2008 11:29 pm

    Hmmm–I guess I won’t be rushing out to get this one. It does sound really interesting, but I guess a lot of my interest stems from the publication story. Some day–too bad the writing isn’t up to par.

  11. December 9, 2008 9:31 am

    Trish – Yeah. As a book it wasn’t terrible, but wasn’t great… but if it weren’t for the publication hubbub, I doubt I’d have given it a second thought.

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