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The Jewel of Medina Hardcover – Bargain Price, October, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Jones's controversial novel about A'isha bint Abi Bakr, the "child-bride" and one of the favored wives of Muhammad, comes to light amidst a swirl of debate about free speech. As for the book itself, it's not bad for a first novel. It opens with a 14-year-old A'isha returning to Muhammad in the company of her first love. Fearing she'd been unfaithful, Mohammad sends her back to her parents while he debates her innocence. The novel then backtracks to A'isha's youth, where her strength of character and sharp wit quickly become apparent. When she's betrothed to Muhammad at age six, she's ordered confined to her house (to preserve her virginity) until her marriage three years later. She is forced to leave her beloved Mecca for Medina when it becomes unsafe for Muhammad and his followers, and as Muhammad-here depicted as caring, progressive and politically savvy-marries more women and early followers of Islam face political challenges and devastating battles, A'isha grows from a self-centered child to a worldly woman whose advice and counsel are a source of comfort and strength to Muhammad. The subject matter here is more spectacular than the writing, which tends toward the maudlin and purple. It's a page turner, but not outstanding.
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About the Author
A professional journalist since 1979, Sherry Jones has won numerous awards and been published in magazines including Newsweek, CMJ, Southwest Art, and Rider. She is currently the Montana and Idaho correspondent for the Bureau of National Affairs, an international news agency in the Washington, D.C. area, and a correspondent for Women's e-News. The Jewel of Medina is her first novel.
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Furthermore, Aisha was not just another 12 yr old girl as we might think of 12 yr old girls, she had been in "purdah" for 6 yrs. That is, she had been locked in, in the traditional manner. Who is seriously training 6 yr old girls to fight with the sword, and where is she developing her strength and skill? Which brings up another point: "purdah" is not an Arabic word. As other reviewers have pointed out (not necessarily on the Amazon site), in telling the story of Aisha, Sherry Jones uses words and ideas that range very far, in time and space, from 7th Century Arabia.
In other words, "Jewel of Medina" disappoints twice. Good historical fiction can give wonderful insight into a world far removed from the reader's own life. "Jewel" does not do that, and the writing, I am sorry to say, is slow and wooden. In other words, you are worse off for having read "Jewel". First, it is not a pleasure to read. Second, if you knew nothing about 7th century Arabia, you know less than nothing for having reading "Jewel" because you now have false ideas about 7th century Arabia.
As for the figure of Muhammad...let's just say there are shelves filled with books that tell what is wrong with the description of the man in "Jewel".
Overall, the book was typical of fiction these days: all fluff, no substance. She's about as talented as every other dime-novelist pushing stuff out by the barrel these days. She does do a good job of imagining A'isha's frustration at being locked down just because she's a woman; and if that's what everyone was protesting, well, reality bites back occasionally. But overall, the book is most certainly NOT worth the excitement it engendered prior to its publishing. Why did anyone waste the time?
For a story in which the protagonist begins her tale as a pre-pubescent female forced into marriage with a much older man, the book develops little empathy for or understanding of A'isha's plight. She starts out as a plucky, but spoiled, little girl with a pretend sword in her hand and ends, disappointingly for the reader, with the realization that she has developed little more than that same quality decades later. No authentic inner struggle or transformation occurs.
Similarly, any reader expecting to discover some insight into Islam or its self-proclaimed prophet, will come away dissatisfied. While some effort at basic research by the author is evident, very little of the story echos with verisimilitude, an essential component of any quasi-historical work.
Before beginning to scribble her manuscript notes Jones would have been better served by taking a few months hiatus, traveling to a Muslim country, and becoming somewhat infused with the essence of such a society.
As an attempt at a feminist adaptation of the bodice-ripper genre, Jewel of Medina never develops the basic points of a political tract. Despite attempting to bring a new perspective to the problems of women living under the strictures of sharia law, Sherry Jones leaves the reader wondering at the paper-cut-out creations of her historical cast, her travel guide descriptions of the settings and a visceral lack of enthusiasm for her protagonist or her problems. The subject and scope of the story demand a better effort.
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Usually I don't read translated books from English speaking authors for I always think something must get lost in...Read more