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Marlon James
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Jamaica, Jamaica 2017 > Marlon James: "A Brief History of Seven Killings", "The Book of Night Women", "John Crow's Devil"

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message 1: by Asmaa (last edited Jun 29, 2017 08:11AM) (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments Akashic, the publisher of John Crow's Devil, has an excerpt from the Prologue's clues to the end through Chapter 1 The Rum Preacher here.


message 2: by Asmaa (last edited Jun 29, 2017 08:12AM) (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments It's kind of unusual that this novel starts with 'The End'. In it, some principal characters, as well as the Jamaican village Gibbeah, are introduced: Apostle York with magical powers, his man Clarence, the lush Hector Bligh, Lucinda who has gone mad, and the aggressive vultures which swoop on the villagers. It's also known that Bligh and some others died. Knowing something about the ending, the rest of the novel will show how and why that came to be.

The story then goes to the beginning with Part One 'The Rum Preacher'. Bligh is the pastor, a very drunken one at that. The villagers have their share of sinfulness, too, which brings to mind the saying 'to err is human to forgive divine'. When drunk, Bligh is hardly a righteous example for the villagers. When he can perform as a pastor, he can lead a congregation to repentance of their transgressions. Nevertheless, his behavior disgusts many villagers.

The alternative to Bligh's tolerance of weakness is Apostle York's stern vengeance against sin. Unlike Lillamae Perkins's retribution against her father's carnal offense against herself, Apostle York's retribution will create a dystopia in which he is a cruel autocrat of Gibbeah.


message 3: by Missy J (new)

Missy J (missyj333) | 58 comments Will be following this thread. I read John Crow's Devil last month and was aware this debut novel isn't as popular as ABHo7K or Book of Night Women. John Crow's Devil started out well but halfway through I lost track of what was going on, so I'm keen to read the analysis here. Nevertheless, this is James' debut novel and what kickstarted his career, so there must be something good in it. Happy reading everyone!


message 4: by Asmaa (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments Missy, this is my second time around with JCD. I'm glad I did so because, as you mention, it can be a puzzling story about what's going on between good and evil and even about assessing the characters, especially Bligh, York, and at the end Widow Greenfield.

I was surprised to learn about Bligh's guilt which stemmed from an indiscretion with his brother's wife and with his brother's death, all before Bligh entered seminary and went to Gibbeah to be its pastor in 1957.

The shady character Aloysius Garvey, who owns the entire moat-surrounded village of Gibbeah and who hired Pastor Bligh, distances himself from the community's inhabitants, making me wonder about his seemingly brief inclusion in the story. That might later be clearer.

Joél Madore has interpreted JCD with the terminology of C.G. Jung C.G. Jung, especially in the 'individuation' of Widow Mary Greenfield and in the notion of archetypes. Madore's article, titled Jamaican Signatures: An Archetypal Analysis of Marlon James' "John Crow's Devil", offers some details about the story, so people who like to be surprised by a story might consider the possibility of finding some spoilers there. I found Madore's article helpful in framing James's novel even though I'm not acquainted with Jung's theory about archetypes.


message 5: by Asmaa (last edited Jul 01, 2017 09:53PM) (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments In the "Introduction" of Bethany Louise Grimm's masters thesis paper "Nasty Nastiness": The Critical Body in Marlon James's John Crow's Devil, she enumerates Alison Rudd's several characteristics of 'Caribbean Gothic'. She says there that both Marlon James's first novel, JCD, as well as his second novel, The Book of Night Women, are illustrative of that genre.

In that same chapter, she indicates that the works of Marlon James Marlon James have not yet been extensively studied, but that his third novel A Brief History of Seven Killings might change that scarcity of literary criticism.

Among many other facts and ideas, she mentions that Apostle York is 'syphilitic' as well as describing Lucinda as a practitioner of obeah at night and as one who flies. Surely that last bit of magic is fanciful and belongs in a novel, or is part and parcel of JCD's 'psychological' intrigue.

I plan to read further into Grimm's thesis, because it has so far provided a better appreciation for James's accomplishments in JCD. Her remarks are insightful. Her comments about JCD's narrative seem clearer than JCD's parallels to the Book of Judges's battle of Gibeah, chapters 19-21, though I may retry Judges, which someone associated with JCD.


message 6: by Asmaa (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments I'm going to interpret Pastor Bligh and Apostle York as symbols for good and evil, respectively.

At the very end of the chapter 'Schism', Bligh returns to the church which he once led, coming face to face with York in a confrontation between darkness (York) and light (Bligh). About York, Bligh says,
"Ye are of your father, the Devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do [...] He was a murderer from the beginning and abode not in truth, because there is no truth in him [...] When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh his own: for he is a liar and the father of lies."
The Apostle vouches for his being 'Holy' as well as his being 'the way and the truth and the light'.

Bligh returns with 'Your light blacker than black. I know you' and lets fly at York biblical passages from Ephesians 2.20 and 3.5 and of 2 Peter 1.12-15, to which York lets fly at Bligh a 'punch'. York's acts and directives will wreak havoc on the community, while Bligh's sacred knowledge sets its sights on the inclusion of all humanity into God's temple.

In part, this book portrays the spiritual beliefs, doubts, and misrepresentations in Gibbeah -- Bligh and Mary Greenfield, Lucinda and York, and in general villagers.


message 7: by Asmaa (last edited Jul 04, 2017 10:12AM) (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments Maybe it's too much to say that all characters of this book stumble in their human nature into some form of depravity. Still, into the second reading, there might or not be exceptions to come.

I really did find Grimm's masters paper, above, helpful because JCD calls many times for a reader's suspension of belief, not to mention Marlon James's swoop into spirituality, such as Jamaican obeah, the bible, and black magic all of which work with magical realism and not to mention the depth of depravity beyond the pale.

For example, from her paper it became plain that Apostle Lucas York silences Jesus's name in the church all the while he's creating a captivating spectacle for churchgoers. He is intent to become the Messiah, but a repressive Antichrist against the 'demons' beyond the perimeter of Gibbeah's encircling river. Within Gibbeah, he exhorts villagers to methods of fire and brimstone against their neighbors. His garments, books, and bodily parts are noted as black and/or red in contrast to Paster Bligh's white suit, which is begrimed in showdowns with York or his henchmen and which is afterwards cleaned to 'purity' by Widow Greenfield.

The story has many more characters who are afflicted with madness, perversions, jealousy, and other vices of mind and body. Maybe what makes York black-hearted is his willful intention for the corruption of others.


message 8: by Asmaa (last edited Jul 08, 2017 06:23PM) (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments Rolling Calf, a specific sort of malevolent Duppy

In JCD, the chapters titled "Rolling Calf" are Part One, Part Two, and Part Three, in which the Rude Boys target Widow Greenfield, the questionable adultery of Clarence and Mrs. Johnson is punished, and Massa Fergie is falsely accused and is murdered.

James takes liberties with his mentions of rolling calf. Generally, the rolling calf of Jamaican folklore has frightening red eyes and neck chain. In JCD, some calves and a goat are found with upside-down heads convey diabolic doings. A rational view about the malformed calves is a birth defect. Folkloric explanations point to possession by the devil as a satisfactory answer. Rolling calfs are said to haunt the base of cottonwood trees. Instances of vile actions by human characters sometimes happen there in JCD.

In the chapter "Revival One", the intoxicated Hector Bligh in a bar experiences something like an epileptic fit, describing it in part as being battered by a rolling calf; while in chapter "Rolling Calf Part Three", (the grazier) Massa Fergie hurries up the reluctant cows to make for home before nightfall to avoid any rolling, or roaming, calf. For both characters, the true fiendishness follows, respectively, from other bar customers and from a stirred up crowd, not from a rolling calf.

There may be symbols from folkloric and biblical stories in this story. I can't help thinking of how the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse might fit into JCD through colors, deeds, or symbolism, but, if so, those might have been put into the crucible of James's writing process, too.


message 9: by Asmaa (last edited Jul 08, 2017 06:24PM) (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments The unloved character of Lucinda in JCD is interesting. She demonstrates a split personality, as in 'Day Lucinda' and 'Night Lucinda', spies on others, and suffered abuse in childhood. She's the one who takes the opportunity to murder her classmate and her mother and who violently and habitually exorcises the devil from herself.

In Felicia Pride's Felicia Pride interview with James, he talks about how his writing about Lucinda changed after some suggestions.
"I became fascinated about why she was the way she was. How much of a women’s good or bad is taught to her by her mother? What role does society play? If sexual desire is such a malevolent force what does that do? Lucinda’s mom was the town harlot and then she becomes pious and religious. Lucinda is a woman that is trying so hard to be black and white and she makes so many wrong decisions. Instead of condemning or satirizing her, I showed some sort of empathy towards her."--Mosaic Magazine
Knowing what comes at the end of this novel, I wonder about James's comment in the same magazine interview for he says in it that "The characters are redeemed in the end, but they go through a lot of hell and I don’t pull back." I need again to see for myself how their redemptions go.


message 10: by James (new)

James F | 55 comments This is not an easy novel to interpret. Obviously, there are references to Christ and Satan, but it's not obvious which is which; at the beginning York seems to be a Christ figure exposing the hypocrisy of Bligh, and the village continues to interpret them that way, but to the reader gradually the figures seem to reverse themselves. I commented in my review of the book that it reminded me of Satanic Verses. Obviously, there is also a political text with Garvey occupying some sort of symbolic role, perhaps as a symbol for British colonialism, although he could also be taken as part of a religious allegory -- the scene in his house near the end reminded my of the ending of Children of the Alley, and in fact the physical absence (in his unapproachable mansion) and mental presence of Garvey was similar to Gebelawi's.

On the other hand, leaving aside the magical/symbolic aspects, the realist aspect of the book seems to be about the ease with which a charismatic leader with a personal/political agenda can turn a respectable, anodyne church into a fanatical cult, showing that fanaticism is latent in all religion (as we have all seen in the rise of the Taliban and ISIS in what were formerly among the most moderate and secularized of the Islamic countries, and the rise of the Christian right in the US over the past fifty years.) I found echoes of the Salem witch hunt (not that that was specifically what James has in mind) in the way that anyone associated with Bligh or simply trying to leave the new cult were demonized by York's supporters.

Certainly, an important theme of the book is how victims of abuse are affected later on, both York of course but also Lucinda.

While I didn't relate to this novel as well as I did to the two later books, it is definitely a powerful work.


message 11: by Asmaa (last edited Jul 10, 2017 03:44PM) (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments James wrote: "...there are references to Christ and Satan, but it's not obvious which is which..."

I had to read the novel closely to pick out the details about the religious men Apostle York and Pastor Bligh. Bligh was tolerant of waywardness for himself and Gibbeah as to be almost ineffective. York seemed like he would aright that situation, directing his powers of magic to amaze the community, exciting enthusiasm in the congregants with his promises of one church family, and bonding their loyalty to him.

So they must have been mesmerized not to understand his words about keeping Christ out of the church and about closing off Gibbeah entirely from the outside world, and about his being the person to lead the way to the Lord through their being violent against imaginable sin until all would eventually have perished. One would have thought that the drunkard Pastor Bligh would have been the hypocrite were it not what the omniscient narrator reveals about York's unobserved life in practice. The reader comes away with the impression of Apostle York as a plastic saint, a magician with morbid powers from a 'dark source' and with black John Crow vultures to herald his coming. The good spirit and evil spirit physically brawl with each other as is manifest when Bligh and York each fight an invisible adversary.

The chapter "The Black House" differs in content from the opposition between Bligh and York. Garvey, the white owner of the village Gibbeah, lives like a recluse in the house with some equally reclusive boarders. Nevertheless, Widow Greenfield visits it to prevail on him as a landlord to end the mayhem in progress. Stoutheartedly, she proceeds through the doorways of his darkened, foul rooms, calling his name and announcing herself. James uses the entire chapter for Greenfield to locate him.

An unusual book more like a parable, a metaphor, or a cautionary tale.


message 12: by Asmaa (last edited Jul 14, 2017 12:55AM) (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments The book JCD came together for me in the near-end chapter "Golgotha, or the Incident". Golgotha is the place where Christ was crucified. That biblical scene of crucifixion and resurrection echoes at the end of James's story with Bligh's redemption as well as with Clarence's awakening into remembrance of the genuine, bleeding Jesus. York was proselytizing a false doctrine, unbeknownst to inhabitants of Gibbeah.

In that Golgotha chapter, Apostle York confesses his distorted Christianity to Pastor Bligh through a tale about his juvenile years as a ward of Mr Garvey, about his subsequent quest for knowledge, and for vengeance on Garvey and God. With Widow Greenfield's having previously aided Bligh with shelter and nourishment after York's bold arrival in Gibbeah and his driving Bligh out of the church, Bligh's words spoken to York in this chapter demonstrate the former's genuine Christian precepts.

Though there's magical actions in this story, those are used either to heal or enthrall. Similarly, the rational explanations can be lies or truth. Rather than demonic possession as a reason for insanity, York's, as well as Lucinda's, madness has a rational, i.e. sociological or medical, explanation, according to Bligh.

In contrast to York's black dangerous John crow vultures, whitish doves bring hope to the villagers, appearing and swooping as a cavalry of the wild west, bringing hope of rescue to the sealed-off village, and punishing the wicked who had violently acted for the false prophet York instead of for the Lord.


message 13: by Asmaa (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments We're going to transition today to Marlon James's second novel, The Book of Night Women The Book of Night Women by Marlon James, a winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize as well as other awards.

In this video James tells what this story is about and sheds light on his reason for writing a Jamaican story about Caribbean slavery.


message 14: by Jean (last edited Jul 17, 2017 06:23AM) (new)

Jean This is one of my favorite books. I read it several years ago and it wowed me. Wowed me is my code for rated 5.


message 15: by Asmaa (last edited Jul 17, 2017 08:56AM) (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments Jean, some people regard Night Women as his best novel so far.

I'm looking again at chapter 1 to Lilith's birth, her startling green eyes and her foster parents, as well as her reaching the pivotal age of womanhood at fourteen years old on the Montpelier estate in eastern Jamaica circa late eighteenth century. Those conditions of birth and maturation influence the plot, but there remains some mystery or suspense to be made clearer by the ending.

Another thread is Lilith's feeling of 'darkness' during extreme times of self-protection,
"And when they hear they would come. And then they would kill her because nobody that young must have so much wickedness. Stop stop stop. That was the first time she feel the darkness. True darkness and true womanness that make man scream. She shudder and she feel 'fraid and proud and wicked and she feel good. Go good so that she get more 'fraid."
Interesting, too, is the choice of character names: Circe, Homer, Paris, Penelope, Europa, Tantalus, Lilith, and many more figures echoing Greek mythology and folklore. I bet that James's individual characters draw some analogies to their namesakes.


message 16: by Jean (new)

Jean I read this in 2009 so I may need to revisit it. Memory is not what it once was ):


message 17: by Missy J (new)

Missy J (missyj333) | 58 comments I really look forward to starting this book (just need to finish a short story collection that I'm currently reading). Having read James' debut novel and his epic work A Brief History of Seven Killings, I often hear that The Book of Night Women is his best work. Can't wait to read this.


message 18: by Asmaa (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments There are a great many incidences in this novel, so I find myself realizing that I'd forgotten this and that, maybe because they are understated. One of those understated incidences is the person telling the story. Through 488 pages the narrator is omniscient and hidden and is named at the end with further revelations. Another incidence is the deaths related to the times when Lilith's darkness lays hold of her spirit, each one of those receding with the next incident.

Refreshers for some incidences beyond recall were found in Wikipedia's Reference and Further Reading links to essays about Night Women written by Karen Long, Gail Lumet Buckley, Kaiama L. Glover, Susan Straight, and Suzanne Hopcroft.


message 19: by Asmaa (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments Jean wrote: "I read this in 2009 so I may need to revisit it. Memory is not what it once was ):"

I find that to be true sometimes, as I touch on in Message 18.


message 20: by Jean (new)

Jean Asma wrote: "Jean wrote: "I read this in 2009 so I may need to revisit it. Memory is not what it once was ):"

I find that to be true sometimes, as I touch on in Message 18."


Thanks for the references.


message 21: by Asmaa (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments Missy J wrote: "...I often hear that The Book of Night Women is his best work...."

You're being familiarized with both John Crow's Devil and A Brief History of Seven Killings is a fine vantage point for reading The Book of Night Women.

Eagerly anticipating your thoughts about Night Women.


message 22: by Asmaa (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments Jean wrote: "...Thanks for the references..."

You're welcome!


message 23: by Asmaa (last edited Jul 20, 2017 12:22AM) (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments After Night Women opens with the backstory of Lilith's birth in 1785 Jamaica on the Montpelier estate and with the glimpse of her relationship to each of her adoptive parents, it continues with her rebelliousness against starting field work, her self-protection against the aggressor Paris, and her life being protected by the authority figure Homer, the story then introduces characters of the big house, Humphrey and Quinn, who along with Wilkins perpetuate slavery. In the Penguin youtube video above, Marlon James is noted as saying that the men in this novel are quite 'bad'.

Andrew Strombeck et al of Wright State University wrote the "Reader's Guide for Marlon James The Book of Night Women", James's title referring to the nighttime planning of two years for a slave revolt against oppressors. Strombeck also made "Presentation on Marlon James's The Book of Night Women", five slide shows linked below:
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5.
Those reading and learning aids highlight parts of the story particularly worthy of attention.


message 24: by Missy J (new)

Missy J (missyj333) | 58 comments Asma wrote: "Andrew Strombeck et al of Wright State University wrote the "Reader's Guide for Marlon James The Book of Night Women",..."

Thank you so much for this, Asma. The presentations are incredibly readable and clear. I just started reading The Book of Night Women and am 3 chapters in and completely engrossed in it!

Asma wrote: "Interesting, too, is the choice of character names: Circe, Homer, Paris, Penelope, Europa, Tantalus, Lilith, and many more figures echoing Greek mythology and folklore. I bet that James's individual characters draw some analogies to their namesakes..."

The names caught my eye too. From the website www.behindthename.com, I found some of the meanings:

Lilith - Derived from Akkadian lilitu meaning "of the night". This was the name of a demon in ancient Assyrian myths. In Jewish tradition she was Adam's first wife, sent out of Eden and replaced by Eve because she would not submit to him. The offspring of Adam (or Samael) and Lilith were the evil spirits of the world.
Lilith doesn't submit to Paris and seems to be feared by the other slaves. However, 3 chapters in, I still sympathize a lot with her character and am still wondering why the other slaves fear her.

Homer - From the Greek name ‘Ομηρος (Homeros), derived from ‘ομηρος (homeros) meaning "hostage, pledge".

Pallas - Probably derived from a Greek word meaning "maiden". In Greek mythology this was the name of a friend of the goddess Athena. Athena accidentally killed her, and subsequently took the name Pallas in honour of her friend.

Circe - Latinized form of Greek Κιρκη (Kirke), which possibly meant "bird". In Greek mythology Circe was a sorceress who changed Odysseus's crew into hogs but was forced by him to change them back.

Tantalus - In Greek mythology he was a hero, most famous for his eternal punishment in Tartarus. He was made to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches, with the fruit ever eluding his grasp, and the water always receding before he could take a drink. He was the father of Pelops, Niobe and Broteas, and was a son of Zeus and the nymph Plouto.


message 25: by Missy J (new)

Missy J (missyj333) | 58 comments In Chapter 11, we encounter another junkanoo scene!
New Year's be white people time but Christmas belong to the negro.
Then the drum thunder. John Canoe be coming. The pickneys jumping in excitement. The drums beat louder and a man and three woman start sing, 'I want to go-oh, I want to go-oh-oh'. Then the negroes be dancing, but this not be no white people dance. Womens make 'ulelele' and 'click-clack' sounds with they mouth. Man grab a woman from the back and waltz her. Then John Canoe appear. He be wearing a red and white jacket with tails all the way down the ground. He be wearing white breeches,
pink stockings and he face paint white like white girl dolly. On him head is a great house so big that he have to hold it with one hand. But him legs free. John Canoe dance and spin and then he sing, 'I want to go-oh, I want to go-oh-oh!' and the negroes sing it too and the drummer beat the drum and player pluck the banjo.



message 26: by Asmaa (last edited Jul 22, 2017 01:11PM) (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments Missy J wrote: "...From the website www.behindthename.com, I found some of the meanings: Lilith - Derived from Akkadian lilitu meaning "of the night"...."

Top-notch, Missy. An all-embracing source for names and their cultural particularities. As you pointed out, Lilith refers to "of the night" -- demonic, defiant, and complex as well as eponymous to the title and theme of The Book of Night Women.

As to the mysterious source of Lilith's frightening aura, chapter 5 begins with her distinctive fusion of 'Coromantee' and 'white':
"Coromantee blood that never know slavery mix with white blood that always know freedom and race through Lilith body like brush fire."
There are her macabre murders that begin with the obnoxious Johnny-jumper. Marlon James might have said that Lilith committed seven murders in the book. I'll have to check that for sure. During those times, she senses the darkness descending on her.

There is mistrustfulness both among the circle of night women in secretively planning their part in an extensive revolt and among the house women everyday. Characters inside and outside are wary as obeah, myal, and omolu are potent means and Jamaican estates are flashpoints. Lilith meets those of base intentions and actions towards her and exacts retribution on them, while elsewhere in the story she returns human kindness even experiencing love. In contrast to the mostly scrawny, older house women, Lilith at fourteen or fifteen years is hefty, feisty, and bullish, yet maternal Homer can engage Lilith in Fielding's humorous story Joseph Andrews Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding and secretly teach her to read it. There's more in Lilith's crucible of life in what she observes and mulls over while away from Montpelier. James's characterization of Lilith's mind and action is considerable.


message 27: by Asmaa (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments Missy J wrote: "In Chapter 11, we encounter another junkanoo scene!..."

I love the image of John Canoe cavorting with 'a great house so big' atilt on his head.

According to Marcia "Ackeegiel" Davidson, "The John Canoe (Jonkonnu), which links music and dance, mime and symbol is an early traditional dance form of African descent that still survives in Jamaica."


message 28: by Asmaa (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments Missy J wrote: "...I still sympathize a lot with her character and am still wondering why the other slaves fear her...."

In The Book of Night Women, the house women as well as other characters are wary and/or sharp-tongued towards the adolescent Lilith because of her rashness and naiveté, pride in her beauty and green eyes, misguided impression of the elderly dowager, mutilation of the Johnny-jumper, and possible fickleness towards their plan of liberation.

That extensive plot for emancipation becomes plainer in Chapter 6 as the six female participants, each unique, gather at night in a distant, obscure cave of light and shadow and give comeback to Lilith's presence in the secret group. Except for Homer, they and Lilith are half-sisters fathered by the former overseer Wilkins -- Gorgon, Hippolyta, Iphigenia, Pallas, Callisto. Another character named Andromeda doesn't appear in this meeting place. They display a rare openness unknown during servitude.

Further features about The Book of Night Women are in Debra Providence's Writing "D", a 'literary critique' of this story. It turns out that another possibility for wariness towards Lilith stems from Lilith's young mother's death at Lilith's birth. The essay weighs into the plot's theme, into the white masters' posturing, and into Providence's personal response to Marlon's story and to its 'narrative voice'.


message 29: by Silver (new)

Silver | 41 comments I am quite intrigued by the usage of the Greek names used for many of the characters in the book and the symbolism that it has. I can see how the personalities of the characters in many ways fit thier namesakes. Homer particularly who seems to be the director of all. In some ways working quite directly in other ways moving behind the scenes. She seems to manipulate the people and events to the outcome she wants.

I can see Lilith playng the role of a Greek Hero as all Greek Heroes are marked by their fatal flaw and like many Greek heroes Lilith seems to suffe from hubris. I also find I have a simiallar reaction to her as I do to many of the Greek heroes. There is the part of me that wants to root for her and the part of me that finds her very difficult to actually sympathize with. In many ways she is not in fact very likeable.

I am also struck by the meaning of her own name and how she is set apart by being given a non-Greek name and one that has a lot of intersting conotations and symbolism of its own. In many ways she can be seen to live up to her Bibilical namesake.


message 30: by Asmaa (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments Silver wrote: "I am quite intrigued by the usage of the Greek names used for many of the characters in the book and the symbolism that it has..."

One has to wonder why the slaves except Lilith are named from Greek myth. An answer requires a leap of imagination even though Marlon James's presentation of Jamaican plantation life may register its realities.

Laura Moreno Sorolla's "The Discourse of Racism Against Women [...], especially from the beginning to page 23, remarks about the Greek names, about Lilith's name, disturbing manner, and estrangement, and about the sisterhood's name of Night Women. Like the house women's impression of spirited, disturbing Lilith, the Night Women
"do not follow the rules of the plantation, they are extremely intelligent, and they believe in the revolt as a means of achieving attaining freedom." --Sorolla
The use of Greek names by the plantation owner intends
"to establish a distance between the White people living on the plantation and the slaves. Thus, by giving them Greek names, he provided a cultural distancing between the two groups. Also, the naming of the slaves is [...] to erase their Jamaican identity"
with a European one. The "plantation owner" above would have been the deceased Patrick Wilson, the father of the current Massa Humphrey, but Sorolla specifically names Jack Wilkins who fathered many green-eyed children and possibly named them, too, though he's "plantation overseer".

Sorolla probes into James's reasoning for the inclusion of a loving relationship when Lilith lives in Quinn's cabin and explores obeah as a religion before continuing the comparative analysis of racial, female themes in Leila Aboulela's Leila Aboulela The Kindness of Enemies The Kindness of Enemies by Leila Aboulela.


message 31: by Missy J (new)

Missy J (missyj333) | 58 comments I finished reading this book last night and gave it 5 stars! Copy pasted part of my review of this book here:

Now I've read all of Marlon James' 3 novels and this one is my favorite, followed closely by A Brief History of Seven Killings.

What I appreciate the most about The Book of Night Women is the complexity James captures of a horrific time - slavery. The slaves in this book are not depicted as helpless victims. Even after harm has been done to them, they still think about revenge and the possibility of freedom. Also not all the blacks are united against the whites. There are fights between the black and the black (for the favor of the white). Finally, the Maroons (runaway slaves in the interior of Jamaica) would return the newly runaway slaves back to the white folks for financial gain. I never heard of this before, but it makes sense.

Another aspect that was brilliantly written about was Lilith's "coming of age" story and how she makes sense of the world around her. Slaves didn't have a normal upbringing in any way. Children were torn away from parents and simply raised to do labour and live in fear. So it took a really long time for Lilith to understand simple emotions such as love and hate, and even her own feelings. She also needed time to understand what's the relationship between man and woman that isn't in the context of slave master and slave.

I highly recommend this book. Often I'm very suspicious of slave narratives that were written by authors born after slavery. How can they capture such a horrible time in history without coming off as fake? How can they capture what's in the mind of a slave if they have never experienced these horrors? I think James' novel is the closest I'll ever get to finding the answers. And this is also one heck of a novel about a slave rebellion!


message 32: by Missy J (last edited Aug 06, 2017 10:27AM) (new)

Missy J (missyj333) | 58 comments
The womens light a secret fire and spirits dance on the wall. Olokun, owner of the seas and god of water healing, and even Anansi, the spider god and trickster. The womens call on Oya, the river goddess of the Niger and wife of Shango. They call on the river mama to plead to the god of thunder and lightning to cast a thunder-stone from the sky to the field and give them powers. The womens go to the river where Oshun be waiting.
I wasn't really familiar with the deities mentioned in this passage (except for Anansi, the spider god that was mentioned in Kei Miller's poetry and Lorna Goodison's writings), so am sharing my findings here:

Olokun: Olokun is an orisha ("spirit who reflects one of the manifestations of the supreme divinity in Yoruba religion"), ruler of all bodies of water and often viewed as an androgynous deity.

description

Anansi: Anansi is an African folktale character. He often takes the shape of a spider and is considered to be the spirit of all knowledge of stories. He is also one of the most important characters of West African and Caribbean folklore. [...] The Anansi tales originated from the Akan people of present-day Ghana. The word Ananse is Akan and means "spider".

description

Oya: Oya is an orisha of winds, lightning, and violent storms, death and rebirth. [...] In Yoruba, the name Oya literally means "She Tore". She is known as Ọya-Iyansan – the "mother of nine." This is due to the Niger River (known to the Yoruba as the Odo-Ọya) traditionally being known for having nine tributaries.

description

Oshun: Oshun is an orisha that reflects one of the manifestations of God in the Yoruba religions. She is one of the most popular and venerated orishas. Oshun is a Nigerian Yoruba deity of the river and fresh water, luxury and pleasure, sexuality and fertility, and beauty and love.

description


message 33: by James (last edited Aug 06, 2017 08:10PM) (new)

James F | 55 comments I'm not sure what I can add to this discussion; I read the book at the beginning of May and really enjoyed it but I don't remember a lot of the details. I'm caught between ordering the books early at the library and then having to read them too soon, or holding off and having them come too late for the discussion. (By the way, I should be ordering the next ones, if it's been decided who to read after Seven Killings.) I will begin with my review, which I wrote just after finishing it:

*************
Last year for our library's book club I began reading Kitchen House, a novel by a white Canadian woman about slavery in Virginia; it was so unbelievable and poorly written I couldn't finish it. This is the book we should have been reading instead. The basic plot is similar; a young girl who works in the kitchen of a plantation, and the evils of slavery, in this case in Jamaica. Both books are set in the first decade of the nineteenth century. This novel, however, is much more credible and well-written, perhaps because James is a Black Jamaican, and certainly because he is a good writer.

The protagonist, Lilith, is a relatively privileged slave, the illegitimate daughter of the overseer and a young slave girl he raped. The novel avoids the usual cliché (going back all the way to Uncle Tom's Cabin) of the good master/evil overseer; both the slaveowners and the overseers are presented neither as good nor intrinsically evil but as ordinary men who are permitted, and even forced, to do evil by an evil economic system, a perspective which was lacking in the other book. The characters are well-drawn and the psychology makes sense, while being put in historical and social context. The focus is not simply on the sufferings of the slaves, but on their resistance; Lilith is part, although ambivalently, of a rebellion lead by the "night women" of the title. The book's only real fault is that it gives too much credence to the reality of (as opposed to the belief in) the supernatural, i.e. "Obeah" and the African gods and spirits; but this is a feature of much Caribbean literature and perhaps also of the author's previous use of "magical realism", although I wouldn't describe this book as being in that style.

***********************

Missy, I read a bit about the traditional Yoruba religion a couple years ago to try to understand Wole Soyinka's plays. One of the things that interested me in the West African conception, and I think it has been carried over into the Afro-Caribbean and Brazilian religions derived from it, is that unlike the Greek and Roman gods that we are (or think we are) more familiar with, but like the Egyptian gods (who of course are also African), the orishas tend to shift identities, blending with one another or being seen as aspects of each other, representing different psychological aspects of humanity rather than purely fixed natural phenomena. A goddess who in one story is the mother of a particular god may in another story be his sister, wife, or daughter, and so forth. They can also (like the Egyptian gods) manifest themselves in animals, objects, or people -- what the Christians misunderstood in their polemics against "idol worship". This fluidity of identity has in both cases led Christians (and some devotees influenced by Christianity) to interpret them as being aspects of a single monotheistic God, but (on my limited knowledge) it seems to me that the pluralism is one of the strengths of this form of religious thought.


message 34: by James (new)

James F | 55 comments I wonder if part of the reason for the other characters' distance from and mistrust of Lilith isn't because they know or suspect her mixed-race background and resent the fact that she was unusually privileged up until the time of the beginning of the novel. If we take the name Lilith to suggest a demonic ancestry then possibly they see her as half Black, half white (demon); on the other hand the stories about her mother may make that the demonic part of her inheritance. Perhaps it's only because I've just been reading a number of stories and novels about "the tragic mulatta" (because another group I belong to here on Goodreads is reading Nella Larsen's Passing), but this seems like it may be an important aspect of the psychology which might be good to discuss, as well as her relationship with the newer overseer and the way she is caught between the two races at the end, trying to save her lover and her father.


message 35: by Missy J (new)

Missy J (missyj333) | 58 comments James wrote: "...the orishas tend to shift identities, blending with one another or being seen as aspects of each other, representing different psychological aspects of humanity rather than purely fixed natural phenomena...."

Thanks so much for this! I didn't know much of West African/Yoruban religion and orishas, so I just copy pasted some simple sentences from Wikipedia here, for other readers who are also not familiar with the deities. Yes, they are quite complex. For example, I read that Shango is the husband not only of Oya, but also of Oshun. And Olokun can appear as a female or male or androgynous. And they take different forms in different stories. Very amazed how these gods survived and are still very much revered on the other side of the Atlantic. Thanks again James for your comment :)


message 36: by Asmaa (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments Missy J wrote: "I finished reading this book last night and gave it 5 stars!..."

Thanks for your review, Missy J. There's quite a lot of detail in this story, and I sometimes am in a quandary about motivations. One of those questions to which you referred above is the house women's antagonism towards Lilith when she first enters the great house's kitchen during her adolescent years.

Agami, "Chapter III Racism in The Book of Night Women", The University of Indonesia Surabaya, unpacks plain-spoken passages from this intensive novel about Jamaican slavery in order to explore the topics of 'racial identity: white privilege', 'prejudice', 'discrimination', 'segregation', and racism's 'effect'. A reader of this novel and its analysis may be put off by the portrayal of barbarity. One analysis of a passage is when the ruthless Johnny jumpers become troublesome to the house women because of Lilith, the Johnny jumpers suspecting Lilith's involvement in Paris's murder. The house women thus dislike Lilith because she's adding another thorn in the house women's already troubled lives.

Another explanation in the Agami chapter(s) is Lilith's unforeseen kindness at the end to grieving Isobel and to disabled Jack Wilkins. Lilith's murders at the Coulibre estate spring from her self-defense and darkening because she observes white brutality towards others and experiences it herself. She thus makes the slave's passage into womanhood and takes furtive vengeance through adulterated cookery. Alternately, she feels remorse and tenderness, respectively, for her several murders and for Quinn's loving regard. There's confusion in her mind.

A paradox in the novel is Massa Roget's, and perhaps Isobel's, false belief that the slaves do not recognize the merit of literature, science, and other knowledge. Roget misrepresents the slaves, unknowing that Lilith practiced the alphabet's pronunciation with Homer and that she surreptitiously entered Roget's dusty library, which slaves were forbidden to enter, and while there came across Joseph Andrews, over whose events and character portrayals she is chuckling.


message 37: by Asmaa (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments Missy J wrote: "The womens light a secret fire and spirits dance on the wall. Olokun, owner of the seas and god of water healing, and even Anansi..."

Thanks for your making clearer the idea of 'orisha' and for your setting forth the attributes of several orishas. The passage from the novel occurs after the Wilson's New Year's Eve. Having accidentally collided with Isobel's chaperone, spilling a tray of steaming soup on her, Lilith is barely alive after her punishments. The house women combine healing treatments and appeals to spiritual powers.


message 38: by Asmaa (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments James wrote: "The book's only real fault is that it gives too much credence to the reality of (as opposed to the belief in) the supernatural, ..."

Lilith was protected sometimes by purely spiritual powers of her own darkness. In some instances, Johnny jumpers were unable to harm her because one of them would out of the blue be overcome by a physical affliction. They would flee.

On the other hand, magically inspired events could involve secret potions of obeah origin. Except for Isobel, the plantation owners and overseers named its results 'bloody flux', being bewildered by its deadliness and by its physical effect on a victim.

••••

I am looking at the historical 'autobiographical' fiction about the Jamaican national hero Sam Sharpe, Daddy Sharpe Daddy Sharpe by Fred W. Kennedy. Though Goodreads has one mediocre rating of it, Daive A. Dunkley has an actual review on JSTOR website, which might be digitally accessible in its entirety if you log in with your library's name. The journal issue is Caribbean Quarterly Vol. 56, No. 1/2, March-June, 2010.


message 39: by Asmaa (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments James wrote: "I wonder if part of the reason for the other characters' distance from and mistrust of Lilith isn't because they know or suspect her mixed-race background and resent the fact that she was unusually..."

Lilith did have a different upbringing from the house women, even though many shared the same father Jack Wilkins. It was unusual that Lilith grew up with adoptive parents Circe and Tantalus and in their home. That was Wilkins's doing, perhaps because of the awful scene at Lilith's birth, of the young age of Lilith's birth mother, or of his feelings about Lilith's mother. Despite Wilkins's normal brutality during oversight of the Montepelier estate, he was affected and was providing Lilith what he hadn't given to his other children of biracial parentage.

Yes, Lilith would grow into adolescence with continued expectations and with vanity instead of an early learning about her place. When the time comes, she avoids the field assignment, pretending sickness then retaliates against the aggressively intruding Johnny jumper. The house women secretly clean up that outcome in Circe's home and hide Lilith in the kitchen cellar of the great house. While not of foolproof authority, Homer's position in the great house keeps Lilith as long as possible from interactions in the field and from those with the masters of the house. She eventually is given kitchen duties and is taught basic reading by Homer, but Lilith doesn't like to be ordered about by the house women. Her conceitedness leads her into interactions with the masters' family and guests and to the tribulations from those experiences and observations.


message 40: by Asmaa (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments Having just listened to an interview (2009) with Marlon James at Radio Open Source, it surprised me that James began a reading with the scene which involved Homer's introduction of Joseph Andrews to Lilith. Lilith uses that novel for learning reading from Homer and to distract herself at night from the daily troubles at Montpelier and Coulibre. At first, she enjoys the humorous story but then wonders about its main character Joseph in relation to the white male masters on the Jamaican estates. All white males aren't the same in their treatment of women.

Not only is Lilith's knowledge of others subject to variation, she adapts from a subjective, contrary adolescent to grow into Homer's definition of dark, true womanhood, a woman who has experienced and observed evil in slavery. She recognizes two sides of her personality, a darkness which responds with ferocity to injustice. Sometimes preceding that response she catches sight of a shadowy, dark woman who may give a perplexing message. However, an opposite side of her darkness eventually emerges, such that she experiences sympathy for other characters. In other words, she progresses from subjective vanity to a sense of outrage about unfair treatment to consciousness of another's suffering especially as she might have been accountable for it. In the radio podcast, James notes the 'complexity' of his characters, which flies in the face of rigid stereotyping.

Even the title of 'Night Women' points to layers of meaning. There are the nocturnal plotters of rebellion, who commit a justified disobedience to escape cruelty and bondage. Not only those six or seven women are meant but Isobel is a night woman, too, enslaved to physical desire. Indeed, Isobel says to Mass Humphrey within the hearing of Homer and Lilith that she is just like the slaves without the benefit of edifying culture and refined speech, the latter about which she gives him a sampling. Afterwards, Lilith inadvertently notices her in the night, attired all in black on horseback through the gate to a clandestine activity.

There are doubles and mirrors in James's narrative technique. Lilith looks into mirrors, which reflect a clear image or sometimes a distorted one. There are Lilith's two natures as well as binaries in other characters, which change their consciousness about Lilith or surprisingly their loyalties.


message 41: by James (new)

James F | 55 comments I'm sure I would have gotten more out of the novel if I were familiar with Joseph Andrews; I presume James had a good reason to choose that particular book for her to read,

With regard to the objectivification of Lilith's darkness in the dark woman she sees from time to time, I think that James does somewhat the same thing that he does with Lucinda's duality in Jim Crow's Devil as the "day Lucinda" and the "night Lucinda", giving the two sides of the personality a separate existence.


message 42: by Asmaa (last edited Aug 19, 2017 05:59PM) (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments James wrote: "...Joseph Andrews; I presume James had a good reason to choose that particular book...Lucinda's duality in Jim Crow's Devil..."

James, that is an excellent question about Night Women to pose to Marlon James.

Having rudimentary acquaintance with the coherent story Joseph Andrews, I looked into Wikipedia's description of Henry Fielding's comic novel as well as Jesse Rhodes Chamber's review of Martin C. Battestin's book The Moral Basis of Fielding's Art: A Study of Joseph Andrews, concluding that the Andrews novel exemplified rectitude, i.e. examples of decency which slaveholders and overseers at Montpelier and Coulibre estates spurned.

In its humor, Lilith also finds respite from the oppressive conditions of slave lives. Darkness and light fight within Lilith. The lives in James's fiction and other lives in Fielding's fiction are the wellspring for her self-examination (guilt v. self-defense) about her culpability in murder. The brutal experiences of slavery are chafed by the imaginative literature as well as by the love relationship, raising her consciousness and evolving her sympathetic feelings and acts for Isobel, Wilkins, and Quinn.


message 43: by Asmaa (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments In the Radio Open Source interview of Message 40, Marlon James surprisingly denies Night Women as an historical fiction, but rather is 'feminist' fiction! I ought to reflect briefly upon that theme of feminism.

At the end of chapter 23, Quinn surreptitiously follows Isobel Roget, who is riding on horseback through the gates of Montepelier into the dark. It's not to protect her from mishap, but to spy on her to report the incident to Humphrey. So much for freedom she takes in the first paragraph of chapter 20. Isobel declares to Lilith and to Massa Humphrey that she's just like the slaves, in her case being moored to the social respectability of her family. Railing against Humphrey's refusal of marrying her after their intimacies and his mother's dislike of the French Rogets, Isobel secretly takes her sexual freedom up in earnest after the engulfing fire at Coulibre leaves her on her own.

Similar to the social control over female characters, the white overseer Quinn lacks freedom once beyond the sugar plantation, in his case the refusal of service in some Kingston businesses because of his Irish ancestry. Irishmen experienced the servitude of slavery in British Jamaica. His shared experience of segregation with Jamaican blacks gives rise to Quinn's fellow feeling of "solidarity" with Lilith and others, says Greg Forter,
"The Irishman's reaction to prejudice against him may be similar to the black Jamaicans sense of injustice [...] Quinn embodies with particular ferocity the conjunction of modern-Enlightenment reason with a premodern form of spectacularized, corporeal social control." -- 'A good head and a better whip' *
In this dystopian novel of social organization, Marlon James demonstrates the characters' duality for self-preservation and for tenderness to others as the novel progresses to its conclusion. As the massive slave rebellion is imminent, Homer denounces the bloodthirsty side of overseer Quinn to Lilith so she will wreak revenge for her freedom. However, Lilith keeps her own counsel, requiting good given her.


*I left off the rest of the Forter article because it was proving obfuscatory.


message 44: by Missy J (new)

Missy J (missyj333) | 58 comments Hello everybody!

Today we will start reading Marlon James' third work A Brief History of Seven Killings that won the 2015 Man Booker Prize. Despite its title, it is a huge book (around 700 pages), but no worries, we will spent 2 months dissecting this novel :)

The novel is divided into 5 parts (see below). The first half focuses on the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976 in Kingston (Jamaica). The subject of CIA involvement in Jamaican politics and gang warfare is also included. The latter half of the novel takes place in America (New York and Miami) and documents the ongoing gang and drug warfare that spilled over the borders.

1.) “Original Rockers: December 2, 1976”
2.) “Ambush in the Night: December 3, 1976”
3.) “Shadow Dancin’: February 15, 1979”
4.) “White Lines/Kids in America: August 14, 1985”
5.) “Sound Boy Killing: March 22, 1991”

One of the things that caught my attention when I opened this book was the soundtrack of Jamaican music at the beginning. Thanks to Youtube, all songs were compiled into a playlist and can be found here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBVAG...-

Look forward to this discussion!


message 45: by Asmaa (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments Thanks for the exciting introduction to this novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, Missy J.

From your listing of story sections, I see that the settings take place on five different days between the 1970s-1990s. Wow, five days in seven hundred pages!

I notice, too, that James substitutes the moniker 'The Singer' in place of Bob Marley, who is the intended victim of an assassination, but he and all others in his house miraculously survive it. The motive for it isn't readily clear, but presumably Marley's message or affiliation bothered political competitors in the Cold War. The early focus is on the Kingston gang of Copenhagen City, who carries out the attempted murder and on what happens afterwards to them because of the don Papa Lo's tough response to the unapproved attempt. The Machiavellian character Josey Wales is surreptitiously abetting groups of conflicting purposes, like a double agent, without Papa Lo's awareness of it.

Thanks also for pointing out the music at the start of the audiobook. I listened to some Jimmy Cliff songs with lilting rhythms.


message 46: by Asmaa (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments Missy J, you're correct in that A Brief History is more than a multi-faceted crime novel. Through James's lens of the imagination, the plot spills the beans on a destabilizing period of Jamaican history. He gazes at the internal political mayhem when post-colonial Jamaica becomes a peg in the Caribbean struggle between capitalists and communists; he uncloaks the country's irremediable underclass's attraction to furnished guns and narcotics as well as its opportunity for a Josey Wales's playing factions and gang members false. Unlike the clandestine plot of rebellion against imperious slaveholders in James's feminist novel The Book of Night Women, this plot of male chauvinism and of conspiratorial imperialism nevertheless has a voice in the character Nina Burgess.


message 47: by Missy J (new)

Missy J (missyj333) | 58 comments I remember hearing in one of the Youtube videos, Marlon James stating that The Book of Night Women was a more classic novel in format and style.
In contrast, in A Brief History, James didn't want to be limited by tradition and what a novel should be like. When we look at the chapters, language, characters and narrative voices, the originality of the novel becomes apparent.

If anyone is still hesitating about reading this novel, I can highly recommend the audiobook of A Brief History. Multiple voice actors were hired to read out the different characters' voices. It's a truly enjoyable experience hearing them speak patois and adds to the atmosphere of the novel.

Before the first part (“Original Rockers: December 2, 1976”) of the book starts, we already encounter the first character, or should I say ghost/"duppy", Sir Arthur George Jennings: a former politician, who fell off the balcony and and plunged into his death, Sir Arthur George Jennings makes some enigmatic statements:

"Dead people never stop talking and sometimes the living hear."

"Living people wait and see because they fool themselves that they have time. Dead people see and wait."


Any thoughts?


message 48: by James (new)

James F | 55 comments My review:

"
Anything but brief, and more like the biblical "seven times seventy" killings. The style reminded me of Vargas Llosa's La Fiesta del chivo, short chapters from various viewpoints, none of whom can be singled out as the major character, and filled with violence leading up to an assassination attempt. It also reminded me of that book in another way: the novel reaches the climax at midpoint and then becomes anticlimactic. In this case, however, the anticlimax just becomes the setup for what is in effect a second novel. The first half is a five-star novel about Jamaican politics and the assassination attempt on Bob Marley (for some reason just referred to as "the Singer", although the back cover names him, and the identification is obvious); the second half is a three-star novel about the American drug trade, with some of the same characters. Much of the writing is in Jamaican dialect, and I can imagine people posting "warnings" about sex, violence, language ... basically, if you're sensitive about anything, don't attempt this. If you're interested in how the U.S. goes about ruling the Caribbean, on the other hand, this is a powerful work of political fiction. "

I was curious about what was based on fact and what was made up; so I decided to stop and read a biography of Marley first. The library had two, both by the same author, David Moskowitz, a musicology professor in the US; the other book was a YA biography, very short, so I decided to read The Words and Music of Bob Marley, which focuses more on his music but also has a basic biography. I was surprised that some of the things I thought Marlon James had invented were actually based on fact, or at least on actual rumors (such as the horserace allegedly fixed by Marley's friend Alan "Skills" Cole, which rumors suggested as a reason for the attempt). I was less surprised that Papa Lo and Shotta Sherriff were based on actual people.

Is it just a coincidence that Josey Wales has the same name as an outlaw in a Clint Eastwood movie? I haven't seen it but I think it is based on a Confederate terrorist?


message 49: by Asmaa (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments Missy J wrote: "...“Original Rockers: December 2, 1976”.."

A Brief History is in some ways unique in its form, with many, many narrators. There's Sir Arthur George Jennings, who is as dead as Jamaican colonialism yet is lingering in the shadows. There are the numerous story narrators from the Copenhagen City gang as well as more narrators from the CIA and from print media.There is a sole(?) female narrator, who goes through self-transformations but survives. In the New York City-Miami setting, there are a few more distinct narrators. Besides the narrators, there is the 'Cast of Characters', who come to light in the narrations.

Another singularity is the Jamaican patois, and maybe creole, extensively spoken throughout the text in plain-spoken contrast with American english.

James, in my opinion, depicts the nitty-gritty of Jamaica with the clear-eyed affection of novelist Orhan Pamuk for the way things go in the latter's Turkey, as in the Kars story. Pamuk is more soft-spoken about official political intrigue, and his imaginative stories, as in the one about the Museum and the one about the miniaturists', are moored to reality through the artifacts of existence instead of to the physical body.

In the music store scene of this reading group's James' video interview, set in St. Paul, Minnesota, James mentions his former stint in music, perhaps rock-and-roll rather than reggae, and that passion of his survives in the pages of A Brief History. The chapter titles are the names of sound tracks, according to Wikipedia's description of this novel. Obviously, there's Bob Marley's Bob Marley acting as peacemaker between opposing political parties.

A Brief History's winning the Man Booker prize is the stimulus for this group's current theme about Jamaican literature.


message 50: by Asmaa (new)

Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3266 comments James wrote: "...The style reminded me of Vargas Llosa's La Fiesta del chivo, short chapters from various viewpoints...The Words and Music of Bob Marley...Josey Wales..."

James, thanks for posting about La fiesta del chivo La fiesta del chivo by Mario Vargas Llosa. I've read several of Mario Vargas Llosa's Mario Vargas Llosa writings except this story. It's interesting that you read The Words and Music of Bob Marley The Words and Music of Bob Marley by David Moskowitz, too.

In William Carlos Williams's William Carlos Williams seemingly transparent poem, "The Red Wheelbarrow", the essence of familiar surroundings may seem baffling to a stranger. For Jamaican and Dominican Republic history, James and Vargas Llosa bring insight into enigmatic events to a larger stage. Their fiction may mythologize characters and plot for coherence and for imaginative twists even with the sake of research. In other words, they get to the bottom -- the concealed root and stem of a lily pad which enables a frog's staying put and afloat on it.

James, your comment about Eastwood's Josey Wales is on the mark. There are references to the Wild West in A Brief History. In an 'Alex Pierce' chapter (pp 83-4), Alex is writing a journalistic account for the for Rolling Stone:
"This is the story of the gunmen of Wild Wild West Kingston. A western needs a hero [...]"
In a 'Demus' chapter (p 107), the gang member of Copenhagen City says,
"The train stop passing when Kingston turn into the Wild West and every man turn into cowboy. I wanted to be Jim West [Robert Conrad's television role in "The Wild, West"], but his pants too tight."
Also, James's Josey Wales has similar family tragedies with Eastwood in "The Outlaw Josey Wales" and with the real Wales, Lester Coke.


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