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The Book of Night Women Hardcover – February 19, 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 238 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Bookmarks Magazine

By exploring the ferociously cruel and dehumanizing practices of slavery in Jamaica, James adds a new chapter to the history of human bondage in the Americas -- "a story we may dare to think we already know" (New York Times Book Review). Powerful and eloquent, The Book of Night Women is narrated in a lilting Jamaican patois that at once underscores and eerily conflicts with the disturbing images of violence and degradation that James conjures. Though the novel is filled with familiar figures -- dissolute masters, jealous mistresses, house and field slaves -- James never lets them devolve into cliches or ciphers; instead, he creates convincingly human characters. A stunning testament to the dynamics of ultimate power and powerlessness, Night Women will keep readers up at night.
Copyright 2009 Bookmarks Publishing LLC


“Both beautifully written and devastating…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.”
The New York Times Book Review

“The narrative voice is so assured and the descriptions so detailed and believable that one can’t help being engaged. This is a book to love. . . . The Book of Night Women is hard to pick up, even harder to put down . . . and it deserves to be read.”
Chicago Tribune

The Book of Night Women is a searing read, full of blood, tears, and the stench of misery. It’s barbaric and ancient, but also familiar in the ways that people, consumed by their differences and divisions, easily overlook all that binds them— the desire for independence, the right to a civilized life, and the need to give and receive love.”
The Boston Globe

The Book of Night Women is not merely a historical novel. It is a book as heavily peopled and dark as the night in this isolated and brutal place. It is a canticle of love and hate.”
Los Angeles Times

“[Marlon James] has carved strong and compelling female figures out of the harsh landscape of nineteenth-century British-ruled Jamaica . . . The Book of Night Women’s most poignant feature is James’s sensitive and layered treatment of the unlikely romance that blossoms between Lilith and her Irish overseer.”
— The Miami Herald

“When a novel casts a powerful spell, I find myself trying to locate where it got hold of me. I knew The Book of Night Women had me when I started waking at night to worry about its characters. . . . Enslave one people and all are trapped. That familiar concept wears flesh and bone in The Book of Night Women. It stands in the wake of Toni Morrison’s transcendent slave literature, and it holds its own.”
— The Cleveland Plain- Dealer

“James has given us an epic novel of late-eighteenth-century West Indian slavery, complete with all its carnage and brutishness, but one that, like a Toni Morrison novel, whispers rather than shouts its horrors.”
Time Out New York

“The narrative voice, with its idiosyncratic inflections and storytelling warmth, will pull you into this outsized, marvelous account . . . James re-creates a world and brushes it with an element of the fantastic, but the emotions he conveys are all too real and heartbreaking.”

“If you pick up The Book of Night Women, you might lose a little sleep. The second novel from Kingston native Marlon James will have you flipping pages, thirsty for more story, late into the night. . . . Well crafted and beautifully written...it will stay in your mind for weeks to come.”

“Darkly powerful.”
The Washington Post

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

“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

“With The Book of Night Women, Marlon James proves himself to be Jamaica’s answer to Junot Díaz, 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 as we’ve read it.”
Colin Channer, author of The Girl with the Golden Shoes

“Marlon James’s writing brings to mind early Toni Morrison, Jessica Hagedorn, and Gabriel García Márquez.”
Kaylie Jones, author of A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries

“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

“[An] epic narrative . . . as lyrical as it is hypnotic, even in the most violent passages.”
— The Independent

“A very nearly perfect work; an exquisite blend of form and content. . . . He bestows on the slave account authenticity and authority.”
— The Toronto Globe and Mail

The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 417 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; First Edition edition (February 19, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594488576
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594488573
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (238 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #830,014 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mocha Girl VINE VOICE on February 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Marlon James's latest novel, The Book of Night Women, opens with an immediate ominous vibe as a much-too-young 13 year-old child dies giving birth to a green-eyed daughter (Lilith) in a dirty, old shack. Merge this unfortunate beginning with the hard living and harder dying on a late 18th century Jamaican sugar cane plantation populated with slaves named after characters portrayed in Greek tragedies and James delivers an intense novel steeped in history, mystery, with a touch of mysticism.

At its core, this is a historical novel narrated by the slave, Lilith, and an unknown voice (which is revealed at the end) in heavy Jamaican patois and broken English. Orphaned at birth, she is raised by the barren and cruel concubine-of-sorts, Circe, and the insane, but caring, Tantalus. Puberty brings unwanted attention and in a brutal act of self-defense, the pretty Lilith is ostracized and placed in Homer's care at the "big house." Drama and more trouble ensue as Lilith vies for the master's attention and affection foregoing Homer's warnings and advice. Homer and Lilith's dialogue and experiences reveal the inter-/intra-relationships and the complex hierarchical strata and blended culture among slaves (house, field, Johnny-jumper), whites (British, French, Irish, Creole, owners, and overseers), Maroons, and Africans (Ashanti, Igbo, etc.). Homer, understanding the power of superstition, practices myal and inflicts an obeah-inspired method of control and revenge across the plantation.

The Night Women are a group led by Homer, a natural leader and planner, who has been plotting revenge and a multi-plantation rebellion with other like-minded women on neighboring estates.
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Format: Paperback
I've waited two weeks after reading this book before I decided to write a review. I waited so long partly because I needed time to process what I had read and partly because the characters kept haunting me. The imagery of this book is so expertly written that at times I found myself mentally gasping for air. I could literally smell the "mint and lemongrass" of Homer and I could feel the physical and mental pain associated with purposely stifling rage and fury as a means of survival. I felt anger and symphathy for lilith simultaneously and I winced in empathethic pain as the characters were beaten, whipped, tortured and brutalized. The chapter describing the construction of the gibbet, the housing and subsequent hoisting of the men and women into the trees is what prompted the title of this review (I hope this sentence piques your interest into purchasing the book to find out what a gibbet is and why it was pivotal to my description).

Despite the soul and gut wrenching imagery, this book is rhythmic in narration. The wording and melodic patois of the characters as well as the narrator provide a needed balance between the descriptive brutality. Additionally, the juxtaposition of a "love story', or what feels like 'love' to one of the central characters is sure to incite an internal debate among the reader. After completing this book, I found myself studying the face of the author on the back flap. For a minute I taught he might be an extra terrestrial or wrote this book supernaturally because the writing was otherwordly beautiful, perfectly beautiful.

If you are looking for a book that will satisfy every literary emotion you can conjure then this book is definitely for you. I may be going out on a limb when I declare that novice writers should use this book as a handguide to great literature, but in my not so humble opinion this is true. Once you read this book your opinion of great literature will never be the same.
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Format: Hardcover
I had a hard time putting this book down. Mr. James has written a heartbreakingly realistic portrait of slave life and the degredation and sexual abuse that was so much part of it. I haven't read something so intense and disturbing in a long time. I am almost embarassed to be part of a human race that could treat other humans this way.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Evertime I read another book about slavery in the America's, slavery comes across as more and more evil. I have read many books on slavery in the US, I have read several regarding Haiti, and the overthrow of the French. Slavery has been a chapter or two in books I have read about the Carribean,but this is the first full book I have read about slavery in Jamaica.

It proved one thing to me,No matter where in the America's, North, Central or South America where slavery was practiced, it was the same, inhumane.

The things these women went through and still remained strong makes (to me) powerful reading.

I very rarely givee a book a 5. I have to find it super powerful to earn that rating. This was one of those books.
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Warning: be prepared for some of the most horrific scenes you may ever experience in a novel.
Second warning: Don't give up if you find the language difficult because I suspect within ten or twenty pages you will be pulled into the rhythms of the narrator who, by the way, does not reveal her identity until the very last sentence of the novel.
This is the story of slavery in Jamaica although it could just as easily be the story of slavery anywhere in the Western Hemisphere. But unlike a Toni Morrison view of slavery, this is far more expansive and far more graphic. The narrator's voice is one of outrage. And she is unrelentless in depicting the horrors of what happened to black slaves.
The other reviews provide much guidance. I simply want to express my appreciation for this novel although I am definitely going to read something very light next! So on to Carl Hiaasen's "Star Island" which is only four miles from where in live in Miami Beach!
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