Book Review: The Book Of Night Women

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by Marlon James

Publication Date:
List Price: $26.95
Format: Hardcover, 417 pages
Classification: Fiction
ISBN13: 9781594488573
Imprint: Knopf
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Parent Company: Bertelsmann
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Book Reviewed by Thumper

I have been awaiting the arrival of The Book of Night Women by Marlon James, literally, for years. I read and loved his debut novel, John Crow's Devil, a magnificent novel of humanity engaged in the eternal battle of good versus evil. If you haven't read John Crow's Devil, do yourself a favor and get a copy. The novel put Marlon James on my ’author to watch’ list and I have been keeping an eye out for his sophomore effort. After four years of randomly plugging in James's name on for any word of an upcoming second novel--over the years I had grown use to seeing the same listing of John Crow's Devil --imagine my surprise when I saw an entry for The Book of Night Women, a tale of a group of slave women--Night Women--who in the early 1800 Jamaica, planned and executed a slave revolt. I damn near lost my mind! John Crow's Devil may have introduced Marlon James to me as a new author who had great promise and could make a name for himself in the literary field, but it did not prepare me for the God-thrown-thunderbolt that is The Book of Night Women. I could not put the book down and trust me there were times when I wanted to, tried to, but I stayed securely tied to it. I was not able to abandon the book until I had completed it. I lost sleep because of this novel and I have not done that in YEARS! Unapologetically raw, beautifully and engagingly written, unblinkingly honest, and painfully absorbing, The Book of Night Women should be declared the best book of the year 2009.

The Book of Night Women begins in 1800 Jamaica, on the Montpelier plantation. A group of female slaves, who call themselves, Night Women, are planning to free all of the slaves and kill every white person on the island. Lilith’s, a motherless young slave, who is ’black as pitch’ yet has the green eyes of a cat, destiny will soon become intertwined with that of the Night Women. After an event that showed Lilith's propensity for violence, she is soon recruited by the head slave, Homer, to become a member of the Night Women. As the time for the insurrection nears, the plans of the Night Women become shaky due to Lilith. Lilith could be the Night Women's strongest soldier or its Achilles heel.

The Book of Night Women is stunning! It has all of the qualities that I love in many of the most revered novels in the American literary canon while it stands alone in its own greatness. How can I put this’if I had a mixing bowl and was able to throw in the novels: Alex Haley's Roots, Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind, Toni Morrison's Beloved and William Faulkner's Light in August, with a bit of J. California Cooper added for good measure; in order to create a single entity, I would have The Book of Night Women.

The characters: First, there is Lilith. In Lilith, James created the first female character every bit as engaging, irresistible and captivating as Scarlett O’Hara. James did not develop Lilith as a character; so much as he gave birth to her. James allowed her to grow and mature; physically, emotionally, and mentally, before my mind's eye. There were moments during the book I swear I could smell Lilith or I was close enough to her to run my fingers through her hair. I was so caught up in Lilith that by the time I was ’ into the novel, I was talking to Lilith ALOUD, as if she was in the room with me and could answer back.

Lilith wasn't the only character James provided with a complete sense of reality, all of the characters were solid. Homer was equally as engaging. Circe, the slave who was given the task of raising Lilith and resented her, the white plantation owner Humphrey Wilson and overseer Robert Quinn, all of the characters, breathed air and walked around my room at one time or another. However, the second most captivating character was the narrator. The voice, the pitch, the pacing was perfect. The story would not have been effective if James had used a different narrative to tell Lilith's story.

James transported me back to a time and place, which at certain moments, I wanted to escape. James did not sugar coat or gloss over the violence and viciousness that slavery inflicted. Because of the story's accuracy, I went from being a reader to becoming a witness. There were times when the carnage, injustice and cruelty got to me so bad that my feelings would get hurt. I got a sinking feeling of despair and utter hopelessness. I would read a passage and get up and play the songs ’I couldn't Hear Nobody Pray’ or ’Standing in the Need of Prayer’ on my stereo. During one of these moments, I came back to myself, ’You fool, it's just a book. Put the damn thang down!’ I would and then not five minutes later, before I knew it, I pick the book up and start reading again. I was caught up but good.

The Book of Night Women is a literary milestone, an unforgettable achievement. It is not often that I surrender to a story completely, but The Book of Night Women is that captivating. It represents the best of literature: words which engage the mind as easily as it does the heart and leaves both changed for the better.

Read Knopf’s description of The Book Of Night Women.