It may not be the preferred genre for readers of sites like this, but today's release of The Jewel of Medina is worthy of support. If you'll remember, Random House pulled out of its agreement to publish this first novel by journalist Sherry Jones, saying it feared "it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment."
The novel focuses on A'isha, the youngest wife of the Prophet Muhammed.
After the Random House withdrawal, Jones quickly secured new publishers in the U.S. and England. But the London home of Gibson Square publisher Martin Rynja was firebombed in late September. Three men are in custody.
"It is a sad and dangerous precedent," Jones said in an interview with the London Telegraph. "We seem to live in a culture of fear and I think that's threatening the future of freedom of speech in the West."
In response, Beaufort Books pushed up the U.S. release date to today in an attempt to thwart any violent backlash here.
We wanted people to have a chance to read the book," Beaufort President Eric Kampmann told the Associated Press. "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."
The Times of London calls it "a breezy historical romance." The Los Angeles Times isn't impressed:
"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."
Other readers may gobble it up, lost in Jones' narrative and efforts to portray a story true to history. But that's the point. It should be judged on its merits as a work of fiction. The notion that it could be silenced by extreme voices should be challenged through our wallets.