O.J. book publisher to handle Muhammad novel

September 5, 2008 1:30:32 PM PDT
The publisher that took on O.J. Simpson's "If I Did It" after it was dropped in the face of public outrage has signed up another rejected project: Sherry Jones' "The Jewel of Medina," a novel about a wife of the prophet Muhammad that Random House canceled out of concern that it would anger Muslims.

"We read the book, we loved it," says Eric Kampmann, owner of Beaufort Books, which managed a hit last year with Simpson's hypothetical confession to murder.

Jones' novel should come out by mid-October, Kampmann said. She will also publish a second book with Beaufort, a sequel to "Jewel of Medina."

Random House was supposed to publish Jones' novel last month, but pulled it after determining that Muslims would be offended by its subject matter. The publisher acknowledged that it received no specific threats, saying in a recent statement that "credible and unrelated sources" had warned that the book "could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment."

Jones' book is a historical novel about Aisha, the third wife of Muhammad, and a major figure in the rise of Islam. Kampmann says he has not yet decided on how many copies will be printed.

Jones' agent, Natasha Kern, said Friday that about a dozen publishers expressed interest in the book, but added that some backed off, also citing possible threats. She acknowledged that Jones will receive less than the six-figure advance agreed upon with Random House, but said the Beaufort deal provides for a higher rate of royalties.

"We'll earn our advance back in about two minutes," Kern said.

Asked if she was concerned about being associated with Simpson's book, one of the most reviled releases in recent years, Kern said she simply liked the idea of a publisher that would "stand by" a controversial text.

"How many publishers have the experience of crashing a book that has had some kind of huge notoriety associated with it and make it a big best-seller," she said. "And we needed somebody who would stand by us, and be committed to it, no matter what happened."

Jones' book is also being published in England, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil and Hungary. Salman Rushdie, whose "The Satanic Verses" led to a death decree in 1989 from Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that forced the author to live under police protection for years, has criticized Random House, his current publisher, for dropping "Jewel of Medina."

"I am very disappointed to hear that my publishers, Random House, have canceled another author's novel, apparently because of their concerns about possible Islamic reprisals," Rushdie said in an e-mail sent last month to the AP. "This is censorship by fear, and it sets a very bad precedent."

Beaufort was virtually unknown until last year, when it reissued Simpson's book, originally scheduled to be released in November 2006 by ReganBooks, an imprint of HarperCollins. But "If I Did It" was dropped in response to widespread outrage. ReganBooks founder Judith Regan was later fired and her imprint disbanded.

A federal bankruptcy judge then awarded rights to the book to the family of murder victim Ronald Goldman to help satisfy a $38 million wrongful death judgment against Simpson.

Beaufort Books, based in New York, published "If I Did It" with Simpson's original manuscript intact and commentary included. The Goldman family called the book Simpson's confession - the same description Regan offered in justifying the original publication. The Beaufort edition has sold more than 100,000 copies.

Simpson has maintained his innocence in the 1994 killings of Goldman and Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles. The former football great was acquitted of murder in 1995.

Simpson is scheduled to go trial in a Nevada court next week to face kidnapping, armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon charges from a Sept. 13, 2007, confrontation with sports memorabilia dealers in a Las Vegas hotel room.


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