Jamaica Magazine

The Book of Night Women – Jamaican Book Review

Marlon James


The Book of Night Women by Marlon James is a sweeping, startling novel, a true tour de force of both voice and storytelling. It is the story of Lilith, born into slavery on a Jamaican sugar plantation at the end of the eighteenth century. Even at her birth, the slave women around her recognize a dark power that they—and she—will come to both revere and fear. The Night Women, as they call themselves, have long been plotting a slave revolt, and as Lilith comes of age and reveals the extent of her power, they see her as the key to their plans. But when she begins to understand her own feelings and desires and identity, Lilith starts to push at the edges of what is imaginable for the life of a slave woman in Jamaica, and risks becoming the conspiracy’s weak link.
Lilith’s story overflows with high drama and heartbreak, and life on the plantation is rife with dangerous secrets, unspoken jealousies, inhuman violence, and very human emotion—between slave and master, between slave and overseer, and among the slaves themselves. Lilith finds herself at the heart of it all. And all of it told in one of the boldest literary voices to grace the page recently—and the secret of that voice is one of the book’s most intriguing mysteries. But the real revelation of the book—the secret to the stirring imagery and insistent prose—is Marlon James himself, a young Jamaican writer at once breathtakingly daring and wholly in command of his craft. His prose fully inhabits the Kingston plantation with a voice that rings with both profound authenticity and a distinctly contemporary energy. And his characters—Lilith and the Night Women—feel instantly alive and unforgettable.


High Praise from Prominent Critics: “Jamaica’s answer to Edwidge Danticat”

The Book of Night Women has received overwhelming praise from prominent critics and writers. The New York Times Book Review writes, “Marlon James’s second novel is both beautifully written and devastating. While the gruesome history of slavery in the Americas is a story we may dare to think we already know, every page of The Book of Night Women reminds us that we don’t know nearly enough. James’s narrative, related in a hard-edged but lilting dialect, takes us back to the cruel world of a Jamaican sugar plantation at the turn of the 19th century…. 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.”
In the Los Angeles Times, Susan Straight calls The Book of Night Women  “a book as heavily peopled and dark as the night in this isolated and brutal place. It is a canticle of love and hate …. The lasting inheritances of slavery cannot be forgotten, and through novels such as this one, history is felt.”
And Colin Channer joins a chorus of international writers celebrating Marlon James’s achievement: “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 we’ve read it.” Other writes who have praised The Book of Night Women include Colum McCann and Dinaw Mengestu.

Links to Reviews:

New York Times Book Review:

Los Angeles Times:

Washington Post:

Chicago Tribune:

Marlon James’s website:

Riverhead Books (publisher of The Book of Night Women) website:

About the Author- Marlon James: One of Jamaica’s Most Celebrated Writers
Marlon James was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1970. His first novel, John Crow’s Devil (2005), was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Commonwealth Prize, and was a New York Times Editor’s Choice. James graduated from the University of the West Indies in 1991 with a degree in literature, and from Wilkes University in Pennsylvania in 2006 with a master’s in creative writing. His short fiction has appeared in the anthologies Iron Balloons, Bronx Noir, and Silent Voices, and his nonfiction has been published in the Caribbean Review of Books. He has taught at the Calabash International Literary Festival Workshop in Kingston and the Gotham Writers Workshop in New York City, and was a judge for the PEN Beyond Margins Award. Currently a professor of literature and creative writing at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, he divides his time among Jamaica, New York City, and the Twin Cities. To find out more about Marlon James and The Book of Night Women please visit www.marlonjames.com

Where to Buy the Book:

The Book of Night Women is available at Amazon.com

About the author

Staff Writer