The Jewel Of Medina is likely the most controversial book since Salmon Rushdie released Satanic Verses. Yet is the controversy valid, or is it being overblown by extremist elements of the Islamic culture? For those of you unfamiliar with The Jewel Of Medina it is a historical novel about the Prophet Mohammad and his child bride Aisha.
I have been following the story behind this book for sometime, essentially it hit critical mass last weekend when the home of the English distributor Martin Rynja was firebombed by three Muslim extremists.
Who better to talk to about the furor than Eric Kampmann the president of Beaufort Books, the prime publisher.
I must admit that I find Eric Kampmann to be a bit of an enigma, he is an author, and his recent book Trail Thoughts is a deeply spiritual book, and one that is reflective of a very spiritual man. On the professional level though we find a very different man, one who at first glance seems to welcome controversy. Last year it was the OJ Simpson ghost written book If I Did It, a book that ended up in the court system, and became the property of the Goldman family. The original publisher, with a gazillion copies ready to ship, bailed out and destroyed the books. Eric Kampmann stepped in, and the rest, as they say is history. A NYT bestseller.
Now Eric’s company Beaufort is now set to launch The Jewel Of Medina, in many ways this book is even more fraught with issues. Random House were set to publish, but based on some public comments, decided to pull out. Once again, Eric and his company have stepped up to the plate. This time though, the stakes are much higher, The Jewel Of Medina has riled up the Islamic world.
I was lucky enough to catch Eric Kampmann between crises and ask him a few questions.
You seem to have a penchant for picking up controversial books, first If I Did It, and now The Jewel Of Medina. What persuaded you to run with The Jewel?
Yes, I guess to some people it does seem like that. In reality though we do not operate that way. We took on If I Did It because the Goldman family had a court ordered obligation to publish, they are nice people, and the project was mostly completed. In fact from the day we signed till the day the book hit the bookstores was exactly one month. Yes there was some controversy around the book, much of it revolved around the Goldman’s, and the people who were doing the grumbling did not understand the circumstances. Incidentally we have just released If I Did It in paperback, with an updated introduction from Fred Goldman
The Jewel Of Medina was another interesting story. I happened to see a news item about Random House dropping the project, and although I only knew a little about the book, the reasons for abandoning the project did not sit well with me. In fact I saw no reason not to publish it. The author was not slamming Islam, it is a historical novel, and very well written. I have a great respect for Random House, but I suspect that politics and a change in upper management were at the heart of the cancellation. In my mind Sherry Jones was badly treated, and I don’t like that. I managed to contact her agent, we signed on Sept/2, so this is another deal that was basically in place, and the books are arriving at bookstores as we speak.
I know that you likely were expecting an adverse reaction from the Islamic followers , but did you think it would escalate to violence? Clearly the bombing in London against your British publisher has scared them off. Have you had any threats here in the US?
We were expecting some kind of reaction, but we did not know what. We certainly did not expect what happened though. There have been no threats to me or the company, also there have been no threats to Sherry. We did get a visit a couple of days ago from the New York Terrorism Unit about what has happened in England. I have to say that I have been most impressed as to how they have treated us. In fact we have a cop outside the door. We didn’t ask for it, but they obviously are taking this situation very seriously.
Have you talked with Martin Rynja since the bombing? News reports are saying that he has gone into hiding?
No, I can honestly say that you know as much as I do.
Earlier this morning Bloomberg reported that British law enforcement had three suspects in custody. Yet as I understand it they were arrested on the 27th, the day of the attack. Considering the severity of the case, there is surprisingly little hard news being reported. One news report a couple of days ago, while short on facts did give out the teaser that the authorities knew about the planned attack. What is going on? Is this the work of a known Islamic militant group?
Once again, you know as much as I do. I cannot disagree with you, with the high profile that the New York authorities are treating us with, it seems possible that the three people that firebombed the London house could be be part of a larger group. We did not ask for protection, but we certainly do have it. That is gratifying, it is good to know that our law enforcement cares.
I understand that you have brought forward the release date to the 6th of October, why the change?
That’s simple, there has been enough speculation about the book, so I said, lets get it out there. We can stop all of these inaccurate and unfair claims. Once the book is out there, people can read it and see that Sherry is not being disrespectful to Islam.
It has been claimed that it is a sex book!
Hardly! Yes sex is mentioned, but the book is about a husband and wife, marriage often involves a little bit of sex! Sherry has spent 5 years writing this book, she is one of the smartest, and most eloquent writers I have met. Not by any stretch of the imagination is this pornographic or disrespectful to Mohammad or his wife Aisha
I know this book is going to hit the ground running. Where can people buy copies?
We have an initial run of 50,000 copies, and as we speak those copies are arriving at just about every bookstore will have it, Barnes & Noble, Borders, and of course Amazon.
I want to say thanks for taking time to talk with me, good luck with The Jewel Of Medina, I look forward to reviewing it.