#131 ~ The Jewel of Medina

December 21, 2008 at 12:43 pm | Posted in Books, Culture, Historical Fiction, Reading, Religion | 9 Comments
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The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones

A’isha is a 6 year old girl who, after her parents betrothed her to Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, was required to remain in her family home until she had her first menstrual period.  For an adventurous girl such as herself, she is tortured by the limitations placed on her simply because she was betrothed.  She dreamed of escaping to freedom with the Bedouins with Safwan, her childhood friend during the entire length of her purdah.  When she witnesses a woman from her clan dragged away by a man who would disgrace her as well,  A’isha can barely contain herself from taking up a sword and defending her neighbor herself.  She may have been young and she may have been a girl, but she had the heart of a warrior.   It was this spirit which caught the eye of Muhammad and changed her destiny.

I first heard about this novel in August when it was reported that Random House was pulling its publication for fear of angering Muslims and perhaps inciting violence.  This reminded me of the events surrounding Salmon Rushdie and The Satanic Verses.  I found the decision disappointing.  Self-censorship out of fear of what might happen is in some ways worse than forcible censorship because it isn’t always as visible.  How many other books have never been published out of fear?  Thankfully, it was finally published by Beaufort Books in the United States.  When I snagged a copy of this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program, I was very curious to see just what it was that caused such a large publisher to back down.  This is a novelization of a portion of Muhammad’s life through the eyes of his most notorious wife.  Still, he was portrayed with warmth and empathy.  His charisma and love of Allah are obvious, but so is his humanity.  While I suppose any fictionalization of Muhammad may anger some Muslims, no offense was intended.  Canceling this publication was much ado about nothing.

As most established religions have struggled against the treatment of women and their roles in society, A’isha’s character is especially interesting as (to Western eyes) Muslim women seemed to be the most imprisoned by their faith, family, and spouse.  The only issue I had with this novel was the story line surrounding the way in which the rules surrounding facial covering became part of Muslim life.  Making a vision seem convenient to Muhammad felt like an “easy out” that was not at all in line with his character.  I do not know exactly how this came to be part of the Islam faith, but it seems to have sprang more from the existing culture than from Allah.

The Jewel of Medina is a fast paced and engrossing look at the beginnings of Islam through the eyes of a young girl who eventually becomes the third wife of the Prophet Muhammad.  At the beginning I was reminded of The 19th Wife because of the common themes of plural marriage and being married to a prophet.  The 19th Wife and The Jewel of Medina are both ambitious novels attempting to provide insight on the origins of world religions through the stories of the women involved.  Interesting that both novels would be published this year.  For me, Jones’ novel worked where Ebershoff’s did not.  From the moment that A’isha is married to the much older Muhammad, I could not put the book down. This novel’s insights into living among sister-wives were more compelling and, as there is only one voice telling the story, the reader is always fully aware of the opinions coloring the story.  While we can’t truly understand today without knowledge of the past, by leaving the modern out of The Jewel of Medina Sherry Jones brought early Arabic culture and the roots of Islam to life without much of the  cynicism of today.

I cannot recommend this novel enough.  It is a wonderful way to learn about the origins of Islam through the eyes of a complex and strong young girl and then woman.  A’isha does not conform to my ideas of a typical Muslim woman anymore than she did during her day and age.  She had to fight for her place in Muhammad’s harim and for the place of women in her society.  Being so much younger than her husband, A’isha’s story does not end upon Muhammad’s death and I am eagerly waiting for the sequel.  The Jewel of Medina, like all of the historical fiction I’ve enjoyed, has peaked my interest in Islam, Muhammad and his wives.  I absolutely enjoyed the adventure and I’m sure you will, too.

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To buy this novel, click here.

We’re All Sick and/or Tired

December 15, 2008 at 4:23 pm | Posted in Books, Family, LIfe, My Life with Books, Reading | 12 Comments
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Hello everyone.  I haven’t been very prolific in my blogging or my commenting this month because ever since Thanksgiving one or more of us have been sick.  Danny has been sick since Thanksgiving.  Allison has had a cold/congestion last week that kept Danny and I up a couple of hours a night for a few nights until we discovered that nasal spray helped her.  Then, I was off on Friday with Emma.  She had a temperature of 104, keeping us up a good part of the night Friday/Saturday.  Needless to say, I’m a bit exhausted and haven’t had much energy.  What time I do have I need to put into finishing my Christmas cards.  I make them by hand and I’m really under the gun to get them out by Wednesday.  Normally I have them out the first week of December…

I am currently reading The Conqueror by Georgette Heyer.  I’m enjoying it, but it’s not as compelling as The Reluctant Widow (although, it’s becoming more compelling as of what I read during my lunch break).  I was also able to finish The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones (I absolutely loved) and My Husband’s Sweethearts (enjoyable).  I’m hoping to have those reviews between now and Wednesday if I can.

I am feeling a whole lot better about my near fatal ARC pile up now that I’ve finished over half of those that I promised.  I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now and it feels good.  I’ve been peaking at what is ahead and I’m really excited.  The Triumph of Deborah is up next, followed by Tomato Girl.  Both of those novels read very well over the first few pages.

I recently found out about a fun Book Club application for Facebook.  I don’t know if any of you have Facebook accounts or not, but you might be interested in it, too.  I’ve been using it some over the weekend and enjoy it.  It allows users to create their own book clubs and I like how that is set up.  I think this might work a whole lot better than what we used for Immortal.  Check it out and let me know what you think.  I’m planning on starting a Historical Fiction book club.  I’ll post an update.  If anyone would like to add me as a friend on Facebook, my email address for that is speedhaven (at) gmail (dot) com.

As much as I love the holidays, I’m looking forward to the New Year and getting back into my blog and yours!

Mailbox Monday on Tuesday

November 18, 2008 at 5:18 pm | Posted in Books | 13 Comments
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Last week was a wonderful week for Literate Housewife’s mailbox (front porch, actually).  It was a bonanza of wonderful books and was by far the most exciting mail week I’ve had since I started my blog.  So, what was it that makes me so excited?  Take a look:

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The Reluctant Widow and The Conqueror by Georgette Heyer ~ sent by Sourcebooks
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The ENTIRE Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer ~ won as part of Maw Books’ month long awareness campaign for Darfur and sent to me by Hatchette Book Group.  I cannot tell you how left out I’ve felt about this from day one.  Now I can hardly wait to make it through my existing ARCs so I can dive on in.  With the movie, I’m having a hard time not scrapping everything and reading Twilight

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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford and signed by the author (!) ~ won from Marcia’s contest (lucky, lucky me!!!).  Marcia’s review is wonderful and I cannot wait (again).

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The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones ~ snagged as part October’s Early Reviewer from LibraryThing.  It’s been at least 5 months since I snagged my last book, but in October I hit the jackpot – and it was completely accidental.  Given the number of ARCs I have, I only picked a couple historical fiction looking books in October and almost didn’t.  When I requested The Jewel of Medina, I didn’t connect it at all to the controversy earlier this year when Random House decided to pull this book for fear of offending Muslims.  Now, published by Beaufort Books, I can see what the entire stir was about.  Yeah!

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