Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Book of Night Women

i just finished reading probably one of the best book i've ever read before. ever. and its fiction. and i almost never read fiction. someone i follow on Tumblr mentioned The Book of Night Women by Marlon James to me. i ran across it at the library and was hooked.
here is the author's synopsis on the book (i love his voice):

there is so much to this story.
Obeah is practiced by many of the main characters in the book. the religion of colonized people is always of source of interest for me, and this book goes into some slaves killing other slaved though Obeah and the ignorance the whites at the time had about it. theres also a part in which Lillith gives her account of the "white god/religion" thats quite comical and simplistic and i wonder if this is the way Africans first viewed Christianity. here's more on Obeah.

West Indian history:
Marlon James is an author from Jamaica, and the book is written in Jamaican slang. some of the words i had to read a couple times in their contexts to know what they meant (like "unu" and "combolo"). i've come to love the West Indian accent, although it's looked at the same way american slang (or Ebonics) is looked at. theres an essay written by James Weldon Johnson about Negro Dialect and how he thinks it should be used more often in contexts other than those that degrade us, but also of how it has served to reinforce stereotypes. and i really like how not only the characters in the book used this dialect, but also the narrator.

black/white and black/black relations:
Lillith considered herself and was called by everyone a "nigger"; a slave. but her father was a white slave driver whom everyone knew was her father because she had his eyes. this man was a horrible human being, but often stopped others from whipping her. she also fell in love (which was mutual) with a white man....although he was still out killing, selling, and whipping blacks all while he was in love with a black woman. crazy and confusing and backwards, but probably quite close to the reality at that time.
it also showed relations between blacks. Maroons were groups of escaped African slaves that lived in the mountains of West Indian islands. i'm not sure how historically accurate this is, but in the book, Maroons often times caught and returned runaways back to their slave owners in exchange for money or food. so, on top of having to fight whites for their freedom, they were also having to fight (or sometimes be killed by) other blacks. sometimes slaves were having to kill other slaves who wanted to be white more than they wanted to be free.

looking overall at the way in which Marlon portrayed men and women, i'd say this is a feminist novel on all accounts. the real, hardcore, leaders, heroes, protagonists were women. the women were the ones leading the rebellion on the estate, meeting at night, plotting, scheming, killing the slaves who would snitch and screw up the rebellion. while the men were just bystanders who had no idea what to do with freedom had they had it.
while the rebellion was getting under way, one of the women leading the rebellion walks in on two or three black men raping the white mistress of the plantation. to which she says "We fighting for freedom and all you want to free is you breeches."
when a woman had been raped or beaten, it was other women that were putting cloths on the wounds, making teas to ease the pain and cutting up special fruits to induce abortions for the other women.
at the end, the rebellion comes to be named after one of the male slaves who was believed to be intelligent and mischievous enough to plan a rebellion. this in he book is really just an example of how all of history has been. white males who had/have power holding history to their patriarchal, Eurocentric perspective. i wonder how many times in the history has a story been told of some type of rebellion named after and credited to a male when in fact women were the backbone; the leaders; the doers?

this book is sooooo good. and it was just written last year! personally, i think it should be listed among the greats of the slave novels like Uncle Tom's Cabin and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. seriously, read this book.

comment. think. criticize.


  1. i agree this book is amazing. i both it sometime last year but only got round to reading it a few months ago. on the language used in the book; it actually put me off at first because i was sure i wouldn't be able to understand anything but when i finally got into the book i realised the slang used has some similarities with Nigerian pidgin (which i can't speak anyway).

    on black/black relations; i think the stuff about the Maroons catching and returning runaway slaves may actually be true. and on black/white relations; you forgot to mention how the white man Lilith loved actually ordered her whipping as well!

    on religion; i had no idea Obeah had Igbo roots! that would mean that two very popular African religions brought to the Western Hemisphere by slaves and still practiced today are actually Nigerian traditional religions (Santeria and Candomble have Yoruba roots). that's amazing but also means that we (the Yoruba and Igbo) were the ones selling the most slaves which is sad.

  2. holy shit! i can't believe you've read it!
    yea i was kind of confused as to whether he ordered them for a while or whether he just went along with them, but you're right, he did order them! love Quinn but hate him too.

    dude yea! when i was reading the book, i thought that "Obeah" was something the author made up, but i typed "Myal" in google search and all this stuff about Obeah came up.
    when i was reading it, it was really interesting when they were like "are you Igbo? they're spiritied. Akan?..." i didn't think they respected even stereotypes of the Africans after the middle passage.
    so is Nigerian "pidgin" just slang for the proper Nigerian language?

  3. lol, i've read it. i found it really difficult to like Quinn but Lilith made me warm up to him. it's interesting that he is Irish.

    i've encountered Obeah before while reading Nalo Hopkinson but like you i initially thought it was made up until i encountered it again in this book. yeah i like how they talked about the different ethnic groups and their reactions to being enslaved. you hardly see that in other books about slaves, all we usually get is that they came from somewhere in West Africa but Marlon did a great job distinguishing ethnic groups.

    Nigerian 'pidgin' is really just a mix of English, Portuguese, French and Nigerian languages such as Yoruba. it's constantly evolving so new words get added all the time. there are more than 200 languages in Nigeria and this depends on your ethnic group but also where you're from. 'pidgin' is used to communicate across all languages and i've always thought it was similar (in terms of origin) to Ebonics or patios.