Wednesday, December 28, 2011

REVIEW: Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones

Set in 7th Century Arabia, Jewel of Medina tells the story of Aisha bint Abi Bakr, beloved wife of the Prophet Muhammad.  Shut away from the world at the age of 6 and married at the age of 9, willful Aisha dreams of freedom and being a warrior-a dream that is not likely to be realized. As a child Aisha develops a strong bond with Muhammad, her future husband but as she grows from childhood into womanhood Aisha faces many struggles-among them jealousy for Muhammad's other wives and an inability to reign in her impulsiveness which often hurts those around her instead of helping.

As Aisha grows she faces greater challenges: battling with the other wives for control of the harim, getting Muhammad to see her as a woman instead of a child, and making very bad decisions because of her desire for freedom and need to be a warrior.

My thoughts:  After reading some of the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon I honestly expected a total train wreck but much to my surprise I found this book to not be bad at all and even though there were some elements that I found weird/slightly uncomfortable, I actually liked it.  The book is told entirely from the point of view of Aisha and we see the beginnings of Islam through her eyes as Muhammad struggles to get people to accept him as the Prophet.  In Jewel, this was often accomplished by battles where Muhammad's outnumbered followers would somehow gain the victory, make alliances, and gain a bigger following.  The big issue that most have is the relationship between Aisha and Muhammad (she was just a little girl when they were married) but in the book Muhammad seems to respect the fact that Aisha is still a child and allows her time to grow up before the relationship evolves into an adult one.  It is still unsettling-extremely young girl with middle aged man- but I think Jones handled the early introduction of the relationship well.  It is later in the book when Muhammad begins to take on multiple wives that he comes off as a lecherous old man even though he claims he is marrying to strengthen alliances and build up a following.  This I think could have been handled a bit differently.

The strength of this book is watching Aisha grow and the challenges she faces with the other wives.  The harim "politics" was the most interesting part for me.  One thing I wish was that there was a bit more character development with the other wives because I'm sure they were fascinating women in their own right.  Here though we get a brief description and a few mentions after for most of them.  The part I had the most trouble with was the Aisha as wannabe warrior girl angle.  This just seems so against what I would imagine for a woman of this time period but I do understand that this was probably another device used to demonstrate Aisha's impulsiveness and need for freedom.  Also the language can get a bit flowery at times but even so I liked this story.

That being said, for those looking to learn more about the beginnings of Islam, I don't know if this is the book to do that.  I think it has value as a story but the reader should go into it with the expectation that although  research went into the writing, this is fiction and most likely a good amount has been added to it to make the story flow.  Finding a book giving a history of the religion or going directly to the source (the Quran) would be a better choice.  I imagine with writing about any religion or religious figure it is especially difficult to find that balance of truth and story without crossing the line into potentially offensive material. I guess I am trying to say read this for enjoyment purposes not educational ones.  Two things that stuck out to me and bugged me a little while reading: when Aisha refers to herself and someone else it is written like "I and Muhammad" instead of "Muhammad and I".  I have no idea why it was written like that but it drove me nuts!  Also in Jewel Allah is referred to as al'Lah and that kind of threw me off too because I've never seen Allah written like that. Overall, I think it was an average read and maybe not entirely deserving of the trouncing it took on some of the review sites.

 This book is from my own personal library.

1 comment:

  1. My knowledge of the Prophet is minimal. This book should be good reading.