Friday, June 11, 2010

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James and narrated by Robin Miles

I end the week with a journey in progress. led by a story that is taking me where I'm not fully certain I want to go. I'm not a fan of slave tales. They take too long to digest, and even longer to metabolize. They conjure voices that linger and feelings that churn.

So it is a tribute to the added transmission and engagement values of the audio version of The Book of Night Women that I remain hungry and alert, although long at table. Listening to the story reminds me of an early childhood year when I was shipped off unwillingly to Florida for a summer with elderly relatives. I vividly anticipated and predictably encountered extreme boredom, loneliness and juvenile outrage. But I also discovered mango and coconut and street-peddled conch fritters and, oh yes, a wonderfully addictive and sprightly card game called Tonk. All in all, another world...smack dab in the middle of my personal nightmare.

The Book of Night Women is like that summer. It is the story of Lilith, a green eyed slave girl on  a Jamaican sugar plantation. An orphan whose fourteen year old mother died while birthing her, Lilith is the product of rape and the object of suspicion and jealousy because of her unusual appearance. Placed in the care of a cast-off slave woman who hates her, she is eventually taken under the wing of Homer, a female house slave who bears incredible scars and wields a carefully tempered power. Though undeniably steeped in racial threat and gender vulnerability, this story landscape reveals a vital stream running through it. Like the female slaves, a listener can choose to succumb to doom and danger, or follow the thin stream.

I'm waterborne, spurred and entranced by the reader's voice. Robin Miles' narration in Jamaican accent is finely nuanced. Her cadence and inflection well convey the story's duality; the sound is alternately lilting and stark. Her voice cajoles, soothes, then smacks the listener's sensibility. For me, each twist, dip or clap of the narrator's voice is like another mango, coconut or card slap of a winning play, helping me feel the contours of a world within a world.

When sound mirrors, foreshadows and elaborates content, an audio book becomes noteworthy and can even bring new diners to the story table. Such is the case with The Book of Night Women. As I listen, and my investment in an odious historical world deepens, I know the stream of woman power will widen and its current's force will increase. I know I am hearing a story of power wielded and countered, of control lost and regained. I am certain the clash will be transformative; I hope it will be redemptive.

Join the journey. Discover The Book of Night Women at VBPL.

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