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The Book of Night Women Hardcover – February 19, 2009
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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.”
—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.”
“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.”
“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
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⠀⠀⠀I pause briefly to thank my ancestors who endured for me to be able to claim such a vicious truth, for their sacrifices blessed me.
⠀⠀⠀The Book of Night Women is the first book I ever read that I have cried tears of joy, of pain, of mixed emotion because of its complete perfection. I couldn't breathe, I began hyperventilating when it ended, and though I've thrown a book across the room when a character died, I've never lost my breath because one lived. Because I was not disappointed with phenomenal ending. This read gave me something as much as it took from me and left me full of wanting, wanting desperately to write as exquisitely as this.
⠀⠀⠀You have addicts, you have love affairs, you have the utter brutality of the rage of unspeakable horrors and the sweltering southern heat... and yet... nothing burned with as intense of a glory as the profile painted of the human condition. Moments most gruesome swelled into scenes of sensuality and intrigue. This is historical fiction that delivers the error of human nature and asks you, "Aren't you capable of this? Don't you recognize this darkness?"
⠀⠀⠀This is, friends, my best read of 2017. It is my first five star read on Goodreads.
⠀⠀⠀I've been reading since I was four years old and outside of the Bible, friends, I have never read a story that moved my soul such as this.
First thing that needs disclosure is that this book is a difficult read, syntactically speaking, unless you're accustomed to Jamaican Patois--even if you are, there may still be some stumbling blocks--because the entire book is written in heavy dialect.
Second thing that needs disclosure is that this book is explicit in language and brutal in rendering. If you have a weak stomach when it comes to slavery and its ills (i.e. torture, r.a.p.e, lynching, wanton misbehaviour, so forth), you will heave, possibly vomit, and have nightmares. Thing is, while brutal, I have no doubt it was a near accurate rendering of the time period.
Without disclosing too much of the story, I'll say Marlon James is a bit of a magician. He was able to immerse me so utterly in the time period and setting that I had to put the book down a few times just to get my bearings and maintain my sanity. He also gave me every reason to despise a particular character (several actually), but made me shed a tear for that character near the end. It left me feeling as though I were the one with Stockholm syndrome. And the ending--it was a nice touch, very poignant, and provided a plausible explanation for some of the story's inconsistencies.
The book, however, wasn't without weakness, mainly with some characterizations. The primary characters were well crafted, but some of the secondary characters--specifically, several women in the 'night women' group, blended together. I found myself asking more often that I should, which one was she again? And the story builds slowly--it took several chapters before it took shape. Once that shape emerged, however, the book was difficult to put down.
There are no saintly characters--many are difficult to like at all--but they felt real; the prose and some references might be difficult for non-native speakers; and the story builds slowly (you'll need to actively will yourself to stick with it), but the story does turn out to be a compelling one. Overall, I'd selectively recommend this book because it's not for everyone, but it stayed with me for several days after I finished (and will likely stay with me for a lifetime).