The Wrath of God
The Jewel of Medina, receiving more attention than it deserves, is finally published in the U.S. British publication is stalled after firebombing. By Bill Vaughn
THE JEWEL OF MEDINA, a tediously controversial “historical” novel penned by a former Missoula, Montana arts and entertainment reporter, was released October 6 to something less than great fanfare. Sherry Jones’ cheesy romance about the Prophet Mohammed and A’isha, his alleged child bride, has generated the sort of buzz that makes booksellers hard and/or wet. But not because of its literary merit.
Jones’ original publisher, Random House, cancelled U.S. publication of her trashy bodice buster, scheduled for release in August, claiming that it had been informed by credible sources that the book could incite violence against its employees and its offices.
Gibson Square,a small Brit publishing house that had intended to publish The Jewel of Medina Oct. 15, announced that following the Sept. 27 firebombing of its North London offices publication in the U.K. has been pstponed. On Oct. 8 the offices of Gibson Square are still boarded up.
The Jewel of Medina was released in Serbia in August but was withdrawn after protests from Muslims there. Then, the publisher announced that it had decided to release the book after all, and it now appears in bookstores in Belgrade. On the cover, Sherry Jones is rendered as Seri Dzons, which is too bad, I think, because Sherry Jones is a fine hooker name befitting the author of the prose seen here, and Seri Dzons sounds like a Serb dessert.
A U.S. publisher, Beaufort Books, picked up Jones’ two-book contract and has made 50,000 copies of Jewel available for sale. The original release date was Oct. 15, but Eric Kampman, Beufort's publisher, told the Associated Press that he moved up the launch because “we wanted to reduce or eliminate the chance of violence. What had occurred in London, we didn't want to have occur here. We wanted people to have a chance to read the book. Once they read the book, we thought the violence part of this story would disappear and people would be focusing on the story, and the book and Sherry.” On Sept. 29, Beaufort, an independent house that published O. J. Simpson’s pack of lies, If I Did It, closed its New York City offices for a day as a precaution against Muslim nut jobs.
Jones told the Wall Street Journal that her novel is being rushed to bookstores a week earlier than planned “before more tempers flare over a book that nobody has read.” And using a tortured metaphor that sounds like something Sarah Palin would blurt, Jones told the London-based Telegraph: “I’m delighted that finally my words are going to be able to talk for themselves.”
And talk they have. Here’s part of a review published by Laurel Maury Oct. 6 in the Los Angeles Times: “The Jewel of Medina is a second-rate bodice ripper or, rather, a second-rate bodice ripper-style romance (it doesn't really have sex scenes). It's readable enough, but it suffers from large swaths of purple prose. Paragraphs read like ad copy for a Rudolph Valentino movie.'From my camel's hump I could feel the leaf-kissed air moving like a cool, moist cloth across my brow as I inhaled the fresh clean scents of petal and blade and springs gilding the morning,' says A’isha. The newly founded Islamic community is fleeing Mecca, and she’s selling air freshener. . . The Jewel of Medina is a misstep-ridden . . . mediocrity.”
Reviewing the book at an American news site called altmuslim.com, Marwa Elnagger, an Islamic scholar in Cairo, wrote that “whatever research Jones did, she certainly does not appear to have used it or benefitted from it. The Jewel of Medina is fiction in the purest sense of the term, with little or nothing of history in it.”
Jones has withdrawn from the Frankfurt Book Fair, according to bookseller.com, which on Oct. 8 quoted Kampman as saying that “We want Sherry here to promote her book, not in Germany talking about terrorism.”
The morning of Oct. 10 Jones' book was holding down the No. 209 spot in Amazon's sales rankings, even though the book has just been released. [Whereas my book of sports essays, First, A Litttle Chee-Chee, is holding down the No. 936,589 spot after six years in print. Am I jealous? Do priests like little boys?]
Random House’s chickenshit decision—which has given the book far more publicity than this silly romp in the sand dunes deserves—was prompted by protests from University of Texas Professor Denise Spellberg, who was sent galleys. She resolved to “warn Muslims” that the book “made fun of Muslims and their history.” Spellberg reportedly said that the novel is a “very ugly, stupid piece of work,” adding that: “I don’t have a problem with historical fiction. I do have a problem with the deliberate misinterpretation of history. You can’t play with a sacred history and turn it into soft core pornography.”
“I’m a feminist and don’t write porn,” Jones told the Telegraph.
Indeed, we remember Jones as one of those hand-wringing fembots of the archaic don't-call-us-girls-we're-WOMEN! school of liberation, who used one of her columns in the local daily to whine about the brutality of the Sweet Science. “Boxing,” she wrote, “is a stupid, barbaric sport that we should have evolved out of long ago. But we haven't, because it appeals to our bloodlust in the same way watching Jean Claude van Damme films does.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, Random House paid Jones a $100,000 advance for the novel, plus a second book. Did the publisher not understand what Jones was writing? Had they ever heard of Salmon Rushdie or that antic Muslim custom called fatwa?
Spellberg herself, of course, is also full of shit. Any religion is fair game for ridicule. That’s why God put them on earth. Look at the Mormons, for example. How could you read their “history” with a straight face? Here’s Joseph Smith finding gold tablets on a hill in New York that tell the story of a lost tribe of Jews—the Latter Day Saints—setting up shop in North America, riding around on horses (there were none in pre-Columbian America), and receiving a visit from Hey-Soos himself following the Savior’s crucifiction.
Right. And dinosaurs frolicked on the prairies of eastern Montana with early-day Republicans.
Meanwhile, stay tuned for my upcoming Muslim-type novel, a steamy yet touching, coming-of-age story about Mohammed's gay son, which I've titled Atta Boy.
[posted september 5, updated october 11]