Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones. Historical Fiction Review

Beaufort Books, Published 2008, ISBN-13:  978-0-8253-0518-5 (alk. paper); ISBN1-10:  0 - 8253-0518-7 (alk. paper), 341 pages

The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones is her debut novel.  This historical novel commences in 619, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, with 6 year-old A'isha Bint Abi Bakr unknowingly enjoying her last day of freedom outside playing with her friends and dreaming of her future as a Bedouin warrior.

That same day, her mother announces A'isha is under the dictates of purdah, confined to her home until her wedding day to preserve her honor.   Her mother tells her "...a girl's honor can easily be stolen.  If you lose it, you might as well be dead."

It is not until A'isha is 9 years old that she discovers she is to be the child-bride of Muhammad, Prophet, Messenger of God, founder of islam and 41 years A'isha's senior.  Threats to Muhammad's life cause the Believers to flee to Medina and establish a new community with the hopes of one day regaining control of Mecca.

A'isha is an ambitious girl with dreams of freedom.  Alas, her life proves to be more challenging than expected.  Her precious freedom dwindles as she battles against new and traditional customs, is consumed with jealousy over her many sister-wives, attempts to win her husband's favor, overcomes her childhood fantasies and thwarts political conspiracies.

The Jewel of Medina follows A'isha until she is 19 years old, when 62 year-old Muhammad dies. 

This book may be difficult for some due to the oppressive environment in Muhammad's harin and the polygamous marriages.  In the Jewel of Medina, Muhammad has a revelation that no man shall have more than 4 wives, although, he, himself, had 13 wives/concubines.  The novel argues both sides of the coin:  he took so many wives to cement political treaties or he was a lustful man who could not resist a beautiful woman.  Either way, I was uncomfortable with this.

Men had ultimate power over women.  Perpetual confinement to the parents' home, slavery and the right of a deceased husband's family to take children away from the mother permanently also did not sit well with me.

It might be all and well to say these circumstances existed centuries ago but, the truth of the matter is, women still experience extreme constraints in today's world.

This historical novel may be controversial in nature, as it depicts the life of Muhammad.  Indeed, the author experienced major setbacks to publishing The Jewel of Medina.  It took much publicity and outrage regarding the original publisher's decision not to proceed with publication because of political issues before Beaufort Books backed The Jewel of Medina.

I have quite mixed feelings about this book.  It bothered me on several levels, yet it was informative about the birth of islam and 7th Century Arabic world. 

Rating:  ** (Okay)

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