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The Book of Night Womenby Marlon James
"A protagonist named Lilith drives the action in Marlon James' novel, so you can be sure that the male characters are destined for trouble....A master with an affinity for history and mythology bestows the ponderously premonitory moniker — which evokes a legendary demon queen — on a mulatto slave girl. Lilith grows up on a plantation in east Jamaica at the dawn of the 19th century. Early on, she learns that she possesses '[t]rue darkness and true womanness,' attributes that lead her to commit several acts of insubordination and eventually become involved in a slave rebellion." Rayyan Al-Shawaf, Miami Herald (read the entire Miami Herald review)
Synopses & Reviews
From a young writer who radiates charisma and talent comes a sweeping, stylish historical novel of Jamaican slavery that can be compared only to Toni Morrison's Beloved, The Book of Night Women is a sweeping, startling novel, a true tour de force of both voice and storytelling. It is the story of Lilith, born into slavery on a Jamaican sugar plantation at the end of the eighteenth century. Even at her birth, the slave women around her recognize a dark power that they — and she — will come to both revere and fear.
The Night Women, as they call themselves, have long been plotting a slave revolt, and as Lilith comes of age and reveals the extent of her power, they see her as the key to their plans. But when she begins to understand her own feelings and desires and identity, Lilith starts to push at the edges of what is imaginable for the life of a slave woman in Jamaica, and risks becoming the conspiracy's weak link.
Lilith's story overflows with high drama and heartbreak, and life on the plantation is rife with dangerous secrets, unspoken jealousies, inhuman violence, and very human emotion — between slave and master, between slave and overseer, and among the slaves themselves. Lilith finds herself at the heart of it all. And all of it told in one of the boldest literary voices to grace the page recently — and the secret of that voice is one of the book's most intriguing mysteries.
"Every Negro walk in a circle," says the narrator of "The Book of Night Women." The phrase is repeated throughout Marlon James' darkly powerful second novel. It seems to mean that black life in the Americas was a vicious circle, full of the terrible things that whites did to blacks and that blacks did to whites and to blacks because of whites. "What a terrible thing 'pon this world the white man must... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) be," says the woman Homer, the head slave at Montpelier, an early 19th-century Jamaican sugar plantation. "What a wicked, terrible, brutal creature, nothing no wicked like he so. That is the only thing they can teach we. Watch today when they see how much we learn." The book is full of such racial anger. Homer is leader of the Night Women: six hate-poisoned black half sisters, all disfigured by whippings, who have been meeting at night for years to plan an apocalyptic slave rebellion among neighboring plantations. The women, several of whom have green eyes, are all house slaves at Montpelier and daughters of the former overseer, green-eyed Jack Wilkins. Homer recruits a spirited, green-eyed teenager named Lilith, who has killed a would-be rapist. She teaches Lilith to read. When a person can read, "she can plan, if is even for just a minute," says Homer, who has one book, a stolen copy of "Joseph Andrews," by Henry Fielding. Unlike Joseph, a free white footman, Lilith can't walk away from the amorous advances of the master. She soon finds a copy of "The Faerie Queene," perhaps identifying with the female knight of Chastity, who falls in love with the knight of Justice when she sees his face in a magic mirror — the way Lilith fell in love with Montpelier's young Master Humphrey. Besides learning to read, Lilith is further educated in killing and domestic terror. All slavery was cruel, but none was as brutal and inhumane as in the West Indies, where whites were vastly outnumbered. Black life was cheap, especially since roving bands of armed runaways called Maroons captured new runaways for a fee. But in the midst of murder and arson, Lilith turns from romantic literature to romantic love with Quinn, a humanistic Irish overseer who has his own issues with the British. "Call me Robert," not "massa," he orders Lilith. With feelings for Quinn, Lilith has second thoughts about killing all whites on the plantation. Reading has made her wise as well as romantic. She warns Homer that the rebellion is suicidal. But Homer must prove that she is in charge, and the revolt erupts. Presumably because Lilith has known love, she is able to forgive the father who raped her 13-year-old mother — but kept Lilith from the cane fields and the whip. She tries to save his life in the inevitable blood bath during which blacks eviscerate their masters and victorious whites take revenge with mass roastings and the gibbet. It's another vicious circle. The book's narrator, speaking a sort of American pidgin, is the daughter of Lilith and Quinn. Her mother taught her to read and write. The circle of subversive black women begins anew — one hopes without whips. Reviewed by Gail Lumet Buckley, who is the author of 'The Hornes: An American Family' and 'American Patriots: The Story of Blacks in the Military from the Revolution to Desert Storm', Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Writing in the spirit of Toni Morrison and Alice Walker but in a style all his own, James has conducted an experiment in how to write the unspeakable — even the unthinkable. And the results of that experiment are an undeniable success." New York Times
"[H]ard to pick up, even harder to put down." Chicago Tribune
"Marlon James has written an exquisite, haunting and beautiful novel, impossible to resist. Like the best of literature, The Book of Night Women deserves to be passed down hand to hand, generation to generation." Dinaw Mengestu, author of The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears
"The Book of Night Women is a slave narrative, a story of rebellion, and a testament to the human heart in conflict with itself. It is a book of rip and rhythm. Of violence and tenderness. Of the healing glance in all the hatred. It reads like Faulkner in another skin. It is a brave book. And like the best, and most dangerous, of stories, it seems as if it was just waiting to be told." Colum McCann, author of Zoli and Dance
"With The Book of Night Women, Marlon James proves himself to be Jamaica's answer to Junot Diaz, Edwidge Danticat, and Zadie Smith. James imbues his lively, energetic prose and unforgettable characters with a precocious wisdom about love, race, and history that none of us has ever seen before, but that feels alive, even definitive, as soon weave read it." Colin Channer, author of The Girl with the Golden Shoes
"Pile them up, a Marlon James character says repeatedly, and Marlon does just that. Pile them up: language, imagery, technique, imagination. All fresh, all exciting." Chris Abani, author of The Virgin of Flames and GraceLand
"Marlon James's writing brings to mind early Toni Morrison, Jessica Hagedorn, and Gabriel Garcia MArquez." Kaylie Jones, author of A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book
Named a best book of the year by:
The Chicago Tribune
The Washington Post
The Boston Globe
The Huffington Post
The Houston Chronicle
From the acclaimed author of The Book of Night Women comes an engrossing, richly detailed epic that explores the tumultuous world of Jamaica over the past three decades.
In A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James combines brilliant storytelling with his unrivaled skills of characterization and meticulous eye for detail to forge an enthralling novel of dazzling ambition and scope.
On December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert to ease political tensions in Kingston, seven gunmen stormed the singers house, machine guns blazing. The attack wounded Marley, his wife, and his manager, and injured several others. Little was officially released about the gunmen, but much has been whispered, gossiped and sung about in the streets of West Kingston. Rumors abound regarding the assassins fates, and there are suspicions that the attack was politically motivated.
A Brief History of Seven Killings delves deep into that dangerous and unstable time in Jamaicas history and beyond. James deftly chronicles the lives of a host of unforgettable characters gunmen, drug dealers, one-night stands, CIA agents, even ghosts over the course of thirty years as they roam the streets of 1970s Kingston, dominate the crack houses of 1980s New York, and ultimately reemerge into the radically altered Jamaica of the 1990s. Along the way, they learn that evil does indeed cast long shadows, that justice and retribution are inextricably linked, and that no one can truly escape his fate.
Gripping and inventive, shocking and irresistible, A Brief History of Seven Killings is a mesmerizing modern classic of power, mystery, and insight.
Epic in every sense of that word: sweeping, mythic, over-the-top, colossal and dizzyingly complex. Its also raw, dense, violent, scalding, darkly comic, exhilarating and exhausting — a testament to Mr. Jamess vaulting ambition and prodigious talent.”—The New York Times
From the acclaimed author of The Book of Night Women comes one of the years most anticipated novels, a lyrical, masterfully written epic that explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s.
On December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert, gunmen stormed his house, machine guns blazing. The attack nearly killed the Reggae superstar, his wife, and his manager, and injured several others. Marley would go on to perform at the free concert on December 5, but he left the country the next day, not to return for two years.
Deftly spanning decades and continents and peopled with a wide range of characters—assassins, journalists, drug dealers, and even ghosts—A Brief History of Seven Killings is the fictional exploration of that dangerous and unstable time and its bloody aftermath, from the streets and slums of Kingston in the 70s, to the crack wars in 80s New York, to a radically altered Jamaica in the 90s. Brilliantly inventive and stunningly ambitious, this novel is a revealing modern epic that will secure Marlon James place among the great literary talents of his generation.
About the Author
Marlon James was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1970. He graduated from the University of the West Indies in 1991 with a degree in literature. His first novel, John Crow's Devil, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
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