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John Crow's Devil

3.72  ·  Rating Details  ·  393 Ratings  ·  62 Reviews
Pile them up, a Marlon James character says repeatedly, and Marlon does just that. Pile them up: language, imagery, technique, imagination. All fresh, all exciting. This is a writer to watch out for.”—Chris Abani, author of GraceLand, winner of the Hemingway/PEN Award

“This is the finest and most important first novel I’ve read in years. James’s writing brings to mind earl
Hardcover, 226 pages
Published September 1st 2005 by Akashic Books
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,346)
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Petra X
The Book of Night Women was so fantastic, one of the best books I have ever read that I couldn't wait to start John Crow's Devil as soon as I'd finished it. I've had to DNF it though. I'm halfway through and I've tried it in print and audio and I just don't like it. The story was of the dynamic new fire-and-brimstone preacher, York the Apostle who had thrown out Bligh the Rum Preacher from his church. But it was not just a battle for the Church, but also for God v Obeah. Most people in the book ...more
Richard Vialet
Jan 11, 2016 Richard Vialet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Cormac McCarthy, Gabriel García Márquez, and Toni Morrison
"Come now, church, who is ready to be violent for the Lord?"
There's something about organized religion that can be really terrifying at times, the way it can feed on fear and trump all logic and decency. This is illustrated to the nth degree in the unsettling debut novel by rising star Marlon James. The book tracks the downfall and destruction of the small Jamaican village of Gibbeah, in the wake of a religious battle between two evangelical preachers for the control of both the Holy Sepulch
May 12, 2009 Kathy rated it liked it
Coming off my high from "Book of Night Women" I was excited to read Marlon's (yes, we are on a first name basis) first book. I was a little disappointed. It was good but did not come close to "Night Women".

This book is about an isolated Jamaican town that is full of sinners including the alcoholic Peacher that the call the Rum Preacher. One day a stranger comes in, Apostle York and kicks the Rum Preacher out of the church and vows to clean up to town of all its sin. What happens next is a battle
Jason Pettus
Jan 10, 2011 Jason Pettus rated it really liked it
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

One of the things I like the most about Akashic Books is that, unlike so many other small presses, they make a deliberate effort not to put out only an endless stream of mopey character dramas about white creative-classers living in Brooklyn; take for example one of their latest, John Crow's Devil, which i
Nov 30, 2015 Stephen rated it liked it
Didn't enjoy as much as his booker prize winning book but can see the gritty writing style starting
Oct 19, 2015 Trina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-general
As I wrote in my review for Foreword magazine, this is an astounding book. How could such a rich fictional brew have come and gone - twice - with so little fanfare?

John Crow’s Devil tells the story of the Rum Preacher and the Apostle York, two sides of the same coin: one is out “to preach about forgiveness” and the other bent on “tearing down the kingdom of Satan” in the town of Gibbeah, Jamaica, a setting which provides Marlon James ample opportunity to delve into the intricate minds and lives
Amaya Smith
Oct 04, 2011 Amaya Smith rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 08, 2010 Ebony rated it did not like it
Shelves: ficton
James is supposed to be like Garcia Marquez and Toni Morrison and sure there was a lot of the supernatural in it that I didn’t have a reference point for, and I don’t know anything about Jamaica in the 50s, but really? (I’m trying not to spoil it). People are so stupid. They just believe anything. I guess that was the point, but I admire people who are in tune with spirits and connected to ancestors, but these people were so super gullible that I didn’t admire them. It’s like their ancestral con ...more
Mezan Ayoka
Sep 29, 2010 Mezan Ayoka rated it really liked it
Finished this one last week. It reminded me a bit of Erna Brodber, because of its non-linear storytelling and rich cultural unearthings, specifically African retentions in the Caribbean. Nonetheless, it stands on its own and was a frightful and uneasy exploration of repressed anger brought out in a spiritual environment. It was interesting that a male writer was very good at writing labrish and suss. And I also liked that the exploration of mental instability (craziness) was dealt in this place ...more
Gaurav Dutta
Oct 17, 2015 Gaurav Dutta rated it really liked it
A new author, a new story, a new dialect

I admit I heard of Marlon James only after he won the 2015 Man Booker Prize. The book was difficult to understand in the beginning but it was a fresh look into how religion can distort your views and force to act in a way which might seem incomprehensible before. The village of Gibbeah was cursed in a sort of way, first in the form of Pastor Bligh and next in the form of Apsotle York.

Overall a good story which makes you think what would ever happen if pri
Brian Loane
Marlon James is a young writer who is just beginning to make his debut on the world stage. He has written three novels, John Crow’s Devil, The Book of Night Women, and A Brief History of Seven Killings. This last one just won the prestigious Man Booker Prize, and he is currently working on a novel which will incorporate the folktales of African tribes. For this recommendation, however, I will focus on his very first novel, John Crow’s Devil.

This is a novel set in a rural Jamaican town called Gib
Kelly Roache
Feb 19, 2016 Kelly Roache rated it liked it
I wanted to love this story about dueling preachers in a 1950s Jamaican village, but expectations were set too high by James' most recent release and magnum opus, A Brief History of Seven Killings. I can still appreciate his debut novel as a space to pilot many of the themes he would expand upon there -- mainly postcolonial trauma. "This madness must make bigger sense," hopes one of the central characters, who also opines that "[c]ountry girls ha[ve] little time for sentimentality, that was the ...more
Feb 25, 2016 Snoakes rated it it was amazing
Marlon James doesn't so much tell you a story, he grabs the back of your head and grinds your face in it. Visceral and intense, uncompromising from the start and not for the faint hearted, it's a immersive tale of good vs evil, magic, religion and sexual obsession all played out in a Jamaican village in the fifties.

Without doubt the most exciting writer today - I've now read all three of his currently published books and I can't wait for whatever is next.
Paul Fulcher
Nov 04, 2015 Paul Fulcher rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
"He called himself Apostle York. And nothing that had yet invaded Gibbeah - not redifusion radio, Bazooka Joe chewing gum, or condoms - moved with his seismic force. He was a whirlwind. He was a centre. Fluttery voices made mention of the Apostle's looks, so like Tyrone Power in the Mask of Zorro that was still shown at the Majestic, but with a trimmed beard, wet eyes and unruly black hair, like a coolie. God has sent him to Gibbeah. Jesus looked just like him. This meant he had power to deal wi ...more
Kathleen Hulser
Jan 08, 2015 Kathleen Hulser rated it really liked it
Amazing, incantatory battle between two preachers in the benighted village of Gibbeah. A volcanic village in the Caribbean cockpit country where "Nothing was the only thing you could cut by half and still have too much." Belief is mixed with Obeah, the streets are more haunted than dreams and rolling calf strikes fear in the scarred heart of the beleaguered. "Christianity is not a romping business" and the war over souls brings death -- where even death offers no eternal sleep of peace. John Cro ...more
Jo Stafford
Mar 15, 2016 Jo Stafford rated it really liked it
Marlon James is a gifted wordsmith, a storyteller par excellence. In John Crow's Devil, he has produced a heady brew from ingredients including religious fanaticism and apocalyptic visions, Jamaican obeah, sexual obsession, mob violence, village gossip, and vengeance.

The novel builds with quiet intensity to reach a terrifying climax. It is only towards the end of the book that the charismatic Apostle's motives for his arrival in Gibbeah, where he unleashes havoc on a grand scale, are revealed. O
Apr 11, 2016 Ellen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
‘Come now Church. Who is ready to be violent for the Lord?’

Marlon James’ debut novel was rejected seventy-eight times before publication. It’s not hard to see why publishers might have been afraid to embrace it. John Crow’s Devil is a gory novel, loud with violent evangelism, dark spirits and taboo sexual encounters. Yet for all its sensationalism, it is a profoundly meaningful and cathartic work that leaves readers with a justifiable sense of unease.

In 1957 Jamaica, a pastor known as the Rum Pr
Meh, this just didn't do it for me. Marlon James is a great writer but I feel like this book was difficult to follow. There seems to be too much going on, and while his writing voice is strong, the plot is all over the place.
Jul 07, 2013 Bobby rated it it was amazing
Loved the lyrical language and the "island-ness" of the story. Using local vernacular added a real sense of ethnicity and originality to the book. I hope Mr. James has a lot more stories to share with us.
Janet Carr
Jan 03, 2015 Janet Carr rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nathan Larson
May 02, 2012 Nathan Larson rated it it was amazing
Can't tell ya how much I adore this book. Marlon is in charge. He is the man.
May 25, 2009 Marilyn rated it liked it
Fire and Brimstone ministers clash in 1957 Jamaica.
Jerry Peace
Jan 23, 2016 Jerry Peace rated it liked it
A spiritual book, full of the magic and mystery of faith, redemption and the ubiquitous temptation to use religion as a bludgeon. Written in 2005 about events in Jamaica in 1957, it is a timeless story of some Christians who nonetheless get all their stories from, as Lewis Black would say, from his book. Constant themes of vengeance and retribution, exclusion and excision, and power and punishment have replaced compassion and love and grace and forgiveness. Sounds kind of current, doesn't it?
Lisa DeViney
I was so blown away by Marlon James' 'A History of Seven Killings' that I was hoping for more of the same from this book. It was not as powerful, but a great book, nonetheless. An allegory for the dangers of vice justified through religion and the dangers of groupthink, the thing I found most fascinating about this book was its shallow dips into Obeah, the Jamaican black magic. If you think about Santaria, and how it mixes Catholicism with voo doo practices, the hysteria that whips up this small ...more
Mar 16, 2016 Nina added it
I feel like James is being intentionally absurd when he writes lines like "his crotch seemed to have risen like a new mountain. A black hill between the huge ridges of his thighs." How else do you call out the absurdity of authoritarianism and religious hypocrisy, right? It's interesting commentary but the pacing and plot often felt like the literary equivalent of a kid making exaggerated noises as he clashes his toys together.
Clifton Campbell
Nov 15, 2015 Clifton Campbell rated it did not like it
Can't say I enjoyed this book like I did The History of Seven Killings. It seems the author was just finding his range. The plot is not air tight and in parts not believable. For example, how come there was no mention of police throughout even though so many crimes were being done? No where I Jamaica is so secluded.
Sophie Raine
Mar 31, 2016 Sophie Raine rated it really liked it
Loved this book! About a drunk 'rum preacher', Hector, who gets thrown out of his church by a charismatic hellfire preacher. Really interesting story that looks at the problematic nature of organised religion, mob mentality and redemption. Even though the end felt a little lacking, Marlon James is an extraordinary writer with a gift for storytelling.
Yulande Lindsay
Apr 07, 2014 Yulande Lindsay rated it it was amazing
This is a debut novel. A...DEBUT...novel. It is written with the assurance of someone who has been publishing for decades. It is written by someone who knows his people, knows his religion and who knows himself. John Crow's Devil seethes with hate, fear, guilt and rage. Ostensibly about a spiritual battle between two men of God, better yet, between Good and Evil, it is so much more. It examines the inner fears and desires of the people of Gibbeah, the small Jamaican town where the book is set. I ...more
Tara C.
Nov 06, 2015 Tara C. rated it liked it
Clearly a very talented writer. I loved the way he used language to paint a picture... But I'm not sure if it's QUITE worth all the hype I read about it. I will definitely read more by this author though.
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Marlon James is a Jamaican-born writer. He has published three novels: John Crow's Devil (2005), The Book of Night Women (2009) and A Brief History of Seven Killings (2014), winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize. Now living in Minneapolis, James teaches literature at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.

James was born in Kingston, Jamaica, to parents who were both in the Jamaican police: his mo
More about Marlon James...

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“Drunkenness was a communal and personal pleasure at once, a miserable state only to those not drinking. Sobriety to him was a cruel attack of conscience masking itself as awareness. If sober people were so aware, how come they only spoke truth when drunk? Give him the romance of a drunkard over the indignation of a teetotaler any day.” 1 likes
“People would say that if the Rum Preacher was all that stood between Heaven and Hell, then everybody had better stock up on asbestos.” 0 likes
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