Friday, October 10, 2008

November Book Club Pick: THE JEWEL OF MEDINA, by Sherry Jones

I'm pleased to announce that Sherry Jones's The Jewel of Medina is our November Book Club Pick.

The book is a fictional treatment of the life of Aisha, the Prophet Mohammed's second wife, his "beloved." The topic is admittedly contoversial--there are various accounts and opinions of Aisha, who is a sacred figure in Islam but whose story in the Koran has been interpreted in a number of ways, some of them potentially unflattering to the Prophet. But no one thought it was going to be as controversial as it already has been, pre-publication.

For any of us who work in publishing or follow publishing blogs and news, you'll surely already know all the backstory behind this book, and why it's an unusually interesting book to have an opinion on. It's hard for me to gauge (what with my lack of perspective), but I believe this is actually one of those publishing stories that made the *real* people news, too. But for the innocents, a brief synopsis of The Jewel of Medina and its very interesting road to publication:

In May of 2007, the book sold to Random House for a large sum.

Publication was scheduled for August 12, 2008.

In May 2008, Random House cancelled publication because of the possibility of threats and/or against the publishing company by "offended Muslims" (I put this in quotation marks because the assumption that offended Muslims would exist and that they would cause something like threats and/or terror was made by an outside party). RH, in an extremely awkward position, was worried enough to back down.

The story broke in the Wall Street Journal in August 2008. Scores of people came forward to add their two (or ten) cents, some of the most provocative voices being those of Muslims supporting the publication of the book (particularly affective, I thought, since I think Muslims have been the most maligned out of anyone because of this entire watershed). (Some of the less unappealing reactions, in my opinion, were intensely right-wing statements about the shape of our country that aren't going to find themselves repeated or linked to here.)

Most recently, you've probably heard about the firebombing of Gibson Square, the UK publisher that picked it up.

Despite the uproar, The Jewel managed to find a publisher--Beaufort, of If I Did It fame--who was able to whip the book out so it's already in stores, not terribly behind its original pub date.

For more information, you might look at these:

the book's website

the Wall Street Journal article, "You Still Can't Write about Muhammad"

the Washington Post article, "Censoring..."

Someone else's write-up of the whole thing

There is much to be fleshed out in this story, from various people's and groups' motives, their actions and reactions, and the pressures of modern publication. But of course some of the prominent issues concern free speech, free press in an era when fiscal metrics and party politics seem to interfere with everything, racial profiling and racism disguised as sensitivity, and whether or not there were real risks.

I have read the entire book, as well as a lot of background material on Sherry's research and writing process, and I believe she wrote this book honorably (otherwise I wouldn't be recommending it here). But on top of the darn good story, there is a lot--a lot--we can talk about regarding this book and its publication. I hope those who have had a chance to read about the book (or read the book itself) will join us on November 1.


Merry Monteleone said...

Hot damn, I wanted to read this one anyway! I'll see if I can get my hands on a copy, moonie.

I found the entire thing offensive when the story broke. There are other books out there about biblical characters - The Red Tent was one of my all time favorites... I don't see why the same can't be done with figures from other cultures and religions... if you don't want to read it, don't buy it... and if people are worried that readers will get a false impression FROM FICTION (I always hate that arguement...) maybe they can put out reference material so that people who find the book interesting might also study the religion and history.

moonrat said...

It's true, Merry. I think that regardless of whether or not you like the book or the topic, the culture of making a particular subject taboo because of widespread hysteria/fear is both insulting and self-perpetuating. I'm glad you're excited!

Marie said...

good for you.

Charles Gramlich said...

I guess it's good to know in a way that books can still ignite such controversy, though I don't really understand it all in this case.

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

I read about this book on a blog a few months back - the blog author didn't think publication of the book was a good idea. I think it raises all sorts of options for interesting and no doubt controversial debate. I look forward to reading it.

Sherry Jones said...

Dear Moonrat,

Thank you for choosing my book as your November selection! If you would like to include me in your meeting, please let me know via my website,, or by writing to me at I'm not sure about the technology, but I may be able to set something up through my publisher.

All best,

Sherry Jones

James Klousia said...

I read about this book way back when all the debate was raging, but hadn't heard that it had actually been released...the news probably hasn't made it to Tasmania yet.

It's nice to see that it still got published even though RH nixed it. Hopefully it will create some more discussions; the kind that end in understanding, not in anger.

moonrat said...

Yay, everyone who's coming! Even if you don't have time to get your hands on and/or read the book before Nov 1, I'm pretty sure there is going to be plenty that we can talk about.

Sherry, thanks so much for finding me and offering to participate! I'm psyched. I'll drop you a note tonight.