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The Jewel of Medina, by Sherry Jones

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JMJacobsen
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The Jewel of Medina, by Sherry Jones

Post by JMJacobsen » Tue November 25th, 2008, 9:34 pm

Since most readers here already know the background on this novel, I'll skip it for this post and just dive into the nitty-gritty:

I found the novel to be something of a missed opportunity. Jones writes the novel from A'isha's viewpoint, but rather than exploring the thoughts and actions of a 7th-century Middle Eastern girl caught up in the birth of a major new faith that will change the course of history, she instead gives us a fluffy historical romance novel.

Now there's nothing wrong with a good romance novel, in my elevated opinion. (The Thornbirds, anyone?) Unfortunately, The Jewel of Medina doesn't even make a good romance novel. Jones tries to use the ol' tried-n-true romance formula:

1. Girl yearns for freedom to be an independant, free spirit who transcends the gender limitations of her era.
2. Somewhere along the way she falls in love with the perfect man.
3. They clash.
4. They overcome the obstacle.
5. They live Happily Ever After.

The reason this formula works in a historical romance novel is because modern-day women identify with the protagonists goals, which are quite attainable in the 21st-century. But it is a formula and an overused one, at that.

The problem with this formula in The Jewel of Medina is that A'isha was but six years old when Muhammad asked for her hand in marriage and only nine years old when the marriage was consummated. By modern day standards this would be considered the rape of a child. Jones tries to gloss over this by delaying consummation of the marriage until A'isha is a teenager and at the same time presenting A'isha as much more mature than a child could possibly be. She is given thoughts and dialogue more consistent with a much older girl. Except she plays with toy horses. Alot. With Muhammad (which only makes him look creepier. I can see why this might offend some people.)

Jones never seems to reconcile exactly how she wants to paint the Prophet Muhammad. She seems to go out of her way to emphasize his compassion and enlightened (at least by 7th-century standards) views of women. Yet when it comes to his acquisition of wives, which was common for the time, she ends up giving us a lecherous old man. Perhaps a dichotomy was intended, but it only reads as inconsistency instead.

Similes abound and are so heavy that they sometimes illicit an unintended chuckle:

That evening I stepped into the courtyard to see the moon. It dangled like an ornament from the bejeweled sky, dipped in gold and looming so close it beckoned my fingers to reach out and pluck it.
The Jewel of Medina, by Sherry Jones

Dialogue doesn't fare much better. The act of sex is continually referred to as the "scorpion's sting." Ouch. I'll leave it at that.

It's not completely hopeless, however.The author does show moments of promise, which may mature by her next novel:

"Glory," my father scoffed. "Is that what you want? It is not difficult to obtain. Ask Abu Sufyan. Glory is as easy to grasp as a dagger. It draws attention to it's bearer like a blade flashing in the sun. Honor, on the other hand, requires discipline and compassion and self-respect. It often works silently, without recognition or the desire for it. Honor comes only after years of effort and, once grasped, is even more difficult to hold."
The Jewel of Medina, by Sherry Jones


I fully believe that Jones holds A'isha and the Prophet in the highest regard. She clearly had the best of intentions with this novel. But we all know what the road to heck is paved with, don't we? I was looking forward to a novel full of insight into the birth of Islam and the role the Prophet's wives played. I was looking for a glimpse into the mind and life of a Middle Eastern woman in 7th-century Saudi Arabia. I was looking for...something different than what I got, I suppose.

If you missed the backstory or want to read the entire review, just go here.

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Divia
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Post by Divia » Tue November 25th, 2008, 9:41 pm

Great review!

And you're right "scorpion's sting" to discribe sex is not something enduring.
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Post by LCW » Tue November 25th, 2008, 9:43 pm

I felt the same way! I got about 3/4 of the way through and couldn't finish it. And yes, Mohammed came across as creepy! Today if someone had voices in his head, visions from "God", fought violently against those who disagreed with him, married and had sex with children they would be locked up in an insane asylum! I realise that times, cultures, and whatever have changed but puleeze!! :eek: I thought it was hillarious how Jones handled him with kid gloves in the novel and acutally, IMO, made him come off worse! She gave him much more respect than he deserved, IMO. I realize that may be a controversial statement but as much as I respect the rights of others to think differently from me, I expect the same courtesy from them!
Books to the ceiling,
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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Tue November 25th, 2008, 10:05 pm

Thanks for the review. Yes, Muhammad's behavior in regard to wives is creepy. Besides the pedophilia aspect, I've never heard a satisfactory reason given why he limited his followers to four wives and then had so many himself. I note that his first wife, the one who had all the money that launched him, didn't put up with any other wives. He didn't start playing the field until Kadija died.

Since this novel does not seem to be a hot topic with my Muslim friends, it looks like I am spared the reading of it.

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JMJacobsen
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Post by JMJacobsen » Tue November 25th, 2008, 10:07 pm

Yeah, I guess we can say that I was summarily unimpressed with the whole debacle. I have to admit that at first I thought that the UT professor who started the whole mess was in league with Jones, but I've amended that suspicion now.

Why couldn't she have just said it was a not-so-great read and left it at that? Now all this money is going to be spent on a book that pretty much sucks. I always get irritated with this kind of thing because I know darned well there are more deserving books out there just waiting for a chance to be published and enjoyed (by me).

The publishing world still baffles me. Why on earth would Random House pay $100K for the books in the first place? Riddle me that. :confused:

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JMJacobsen
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Post by JMJacobsen » Tue November 25th, 2008, 10:09 pm

Oh, and I have a feeling Misfit would have launched this book at the wall like a missle (gaping hole in wall and everything!). ;)

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LCW
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Post by LCW » Tue November 25th, 2008, 10:58 pm

[quote=""JMJacobsen""]Oh, and I have a feeling Misfit would have launched this book at the wall like a missle (gaping hole in wall and everything!). ;) [/quote]

LOL, so true!! If anyone wants a go at this book, my copy is available!!! Just pm me your address!
Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I'll have a long beard by the time I read them. --Arnold Lobel

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JMJacobsen
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Post by JMJacobsen » Wed November 26th, 2008, 12:14 am

Well Sherry is clearly not too happy with me, but I'd like to think that I was fair. I'm not going to avoid reviewing a book I disliked. That would defeat the purpose of actually reviewing.

She corrected my statement regarding the book winning any awards (it's been nominated for a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award) and I've made the appropriate correction to my original review. Thought I'd mention the correction here, as well, for what it's worth.

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Divia
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Post by Divia » Wed November 26th, 2008, 5:25 am

Riddle me this...

How can crappy books be nominated to win awards???

And I would agree that sometimes the publishing world is very confusing. If the novel is as bad as others are saying then why pay 100 grand for it!??!
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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Posts: 3562
Joined: August 2008
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Wed November 26th, 2008, 5:40 am

Because controversy sells. And right now people are interested in understanding Islam. (Actually, I find that my knowledge of Islam has now trumped my knowledge of llamas as a topic of interest with strangers. Which, after 30 years of llamas, is rather a welcome change. How I wish I could get people to let me go on about history!)

I think one level of Random House jumped at the novel for the Islamic aspect, and then a higher level got cold feet at the possible extent of the brouhaha, remembering the riots after the Danish cartoon.

Publishing is a business. They don't pay their employees by producing books that will still sell in 50 years, but by producing what will sell this year. Next year, they'll have more books to sell. Readers want quality, but buyers go for the name and the advertising. The two are not always the same.

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