From the “Holy Shit” Department comes an article that was highlighted in today’s Publisher’s Lunch and dispatched to me by TeddyPig (Hi Teddy!): the Wall Street Journal reports that Random House is stopping publication of The Jewel of Medina and giving the rights back to the author, six days before the publication date out of fear of fallout from the Muslim community over the book’s content.
The book by Sherry Jones is a work of historical fiction based on the life of Aisha, one of the wives of the prophet Mohammed. Random House paid a $100k advance for the work but when UT Professor Denise Spellberg read an ARC, she denounced the book as a “very ugly, stupid piece of work” (note to authors: Don’t ask her for a cover quote. Ever.) and said, “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.”
Wait, wait, before you pound your head on your desk, there’s more. Ms. Spellberg alerted Shahed Amunullah, a guest lecturer and editor of altmuslim.com, who spread the word to a listserv of Muslim graduate students. From there that email appeared the website “Hussaini Youth,” and within three hours, a person published “a seven-point strategy to ensure ‘the writer withdraws this book from the stores and apologise all the muslims across the world.’”
Now you can bang your head.
After Ms. Spellberg had a conversation with an editor at Knopf, an imprint of Random House with whom Spellberg has a book contract, alarm was raised within the company that the book, the author, and the employees of the publisher could be the victims of “widespread violence.” Spellberg followed up the conversation with a letter from her attorney stating that Spellberg would sue if her name were associated with the novel.
The story has set the internet on fire, pretty much, from Galley Cat to political bloggers weighing in. I’m trying to find an excerpt, a copy, anything about this book, because six days before publication must mean somewhere, somehow, someone has a copy and I have an eBay account. You have a copy? Let’s talk.
I must also note that according to the WSJ article, Sherry Jones has signed a termination agreement and her agent can shop the book to other publishers. I hope another publisher brings the book out, and soon, because one hissyfit and the threat of terrorist action should not block anything, let alone a historical fiction novel.