Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Book of the Night Women

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"And if she [the negro] just come from the ship, more so be the difference. If the negro is a Igbo, sooner or later, she goin' kill herself. If she come from or born to an Angolan, then she goin' be lazy till her dying day. If she come come from or born to a Popo or Ibibio, then she goin' work hard and laugh and merry and thank God for massa. If she be Akan, her hand working as hard as her mind plotting. But the Lord help you if you get an Ashanti, what the White people call Coromantee. Not even massa whip can tame she."

The Book of the Night Women takes place in late 18th century, early 19th century Jamaica on a plantation, and centers on the story of a young, mulatto slave with blazing green eyes named Lilith. As Lilith's mother dies shortly after giving birth, Lilith is raised by an unrelated, uncaring slave woman ("Massa" is Lilith's father, so he's obviously not stepping in to care for her) until the head house slave, Homer, steps in and takes the girl under her wing. Lilith, hot-tempered and extremely stubborn (she has Ashanti blood running through her veins, after all), constantly clashes with Homer, but Homer doesn't give up on her.

While the book follows Lilith through her ups and downs on the plantation (her smart mouth and hard head get her in trouble more than a few times), the reader is also privy to a plan that Homer is leading for a slave revolt against their White oppressors. Homer, and the other women spear-heading the movement, are very powerful, as each of them dabble in Myal and Obeah (black magic), and even though Lilith is a thorn in their sides, they try to include her, because they recognize that same power within her. Lilith is torn about whether she wants to participate, as she knows what it feels like to murder others (I told you she's hot tempered). It also doesn't help that she's been carrying on a (somewhat) secret, romantic relationship with the plantation's Irish over-seer.

Kingston-born Marlon James, a literature and creative writing professor at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, is the book's author.

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While this book is not a quick read at 417 pages, it did paint a very clear picture of slavery in the Caribbean. The rapes, the murders, the maroons, the British plantation owners, the division between the fair skinned house slaves and dark skinned field slaves are all made real in this novel. It's also a bit dark, as black magic plays a huge role in the story. Given the fact that I love history, and my family is from Jamaica, I had to read this book. I think you should read it to.

Are you interested in slavery-era novels? Do you know of other good books that focus on slavery in the Caribbean?



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