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book reviews

BOOK REVIEWS Courtesy of Beaverdale Books


‘The Book of Night Women’

By Marlon James
Penguin USA
2/2/10
$16
448 pp

“The Book of Night Women” is brilliant and riveting, but please allow a strong word of caution — obscene language and cruel, graphic scenes are rife throughout this novel. The gritty detail is essential as Marlon James paints a living, moving picture of slave life using vivid characterization.

Set in the late 1700s, the book depicts life on a cotton plantation in Jamaica. Black magic (obeah) is widely practiced and feared. Slaves are treated like animals by their owners and by each other. The main character, Lilith, is a headstrong mulatto slave, who kills a cotton picker that comes to “visit” her. For her protection she is swept off to the main house where she lives in the kitchen basement and begins working with the house staff.

Inside the house Lilith begins to meet others like her, daughters of the white overseer, children of rape. These women are joined in an uneasy truce. They meet secretly, planning a massive slave revolt to be coordinated with revolts on many Jamaican plantations.

As the novel draws to its climax and the revolt is inevitable, other relationships are formed and the idea of love is questioned. Lilith is taken as a slave and lover of a white man. She finds herself in a strange position of willing protector and secret-keeper of a woman she despises. And finally, she struggles to trust the woman who has become a mother figure to her. This novel is intimate and deeply moving. For mature audiences only. CV — Review by Laura Flaugher


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