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Publishers WeeklyJones's controversial novel about A'isha bint Abi Bakr, the "child-bride" and one of the favored wives of Muhammad, comes to light amidst a swirl of debate about free speech. As for the book itself, it's not bad for a first novel. It opens with a 14-year-old A'isha returning to Muhammad in the company of her first love. Fearing she'd been unfaithful, Mohammad sends her back to her parents while he debates her innocence. The novel then backtracks to A'isha's youth, where her strength of character and sharp wit quickly become apparent. When she's betrothed to Muhammad at age six, she's ordered confined to her house (to preserve her virginity) until her marriage three years later. She is forced to leave her beloved Mecca for Medina when it becomes unsafe for Muhammad and his followers, and as Muhammad-here depicted as caring, progressive and politically savvy-marries more women and early followers of Islam face political challenges and devastating battles, A'isha grows from a self-centered child to a worldly woman whose advice and counsel are a source of comfort and strength to Muhammad. The subject matter here is more spectacular than the writing, which tends toward the maudlin and purple. It's a page turner, but not outstanding.
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