The Book of Night Women

by Marlon James
Around the World: Jamaica


Lilith was born into slavery on a Jamaican sugar plantation at the end of the eighteenth century. It is a desperate, cruel life, where beatings and rape are an everyday occurrence, and a slave’s life is worth only the cost of buying a replacement. Every few years, a rebellion builds up, and a few of the backra (whites) are killed for a change. But what is the best way to suppress a slave population and keep them working? Torture and killing of course. And so the violence continues.

Lilith is a teenage girl who thinks she is prettier than the others, and smart, and should have a better life. She hates her fellow slaves who try to disillusion her. She hates the whites who mistreat her and finally get through to her that her aspirations will never be.

She discovers a circle of women who are kin to her, who are plotting the next revolution, but is ambivalent about being involved. She has inside of her a darkness that wants to act against any who go against her. But she doesn’t know what to think of their plan. The violence and inequity start to affect Lilith more personally, and the darkness within her grows.


This book is not an easy read, and it is not a pleasant read. It is written with the speech patterns and slang of the slave people. If you are going to read it, be prepared for everyone calling each other cunts, pussys and several other nasty names every paragraph, for anger that feels almost constant, for sickening violence that never seems to end, and to watch the decay of other characters lives. From all reports it is probably a fairly accurate portrayal of slave life, and I think it is important that we don’t glorify the countries that did bring us so many scientific and artistic achievements without remembering the dark sides too. But maybe make a choice yourself about whether you want  to spend hours reading about it, or maybe watch 12 years a slave or a documentary.




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