Marlon James Talks Sugar, Slavery and Night Womanness with NPR

Marlon James's The Book of Night Women has earned great print reviews plus emphatic web endorsements from Maud Newton and Bookdwarf, so I was pleased to find an audio interview with James at NPR's "On Point With Tom Ashbrook Podcast" (46 minutes total, available here on iTunes, and on WBUR radio page here).

Stop at 19:40 Before You Read
The first nigh twenty minutes of the episode serve as the perfect prewire for the book. As a bonus they display James's fluidity and depth as a literary conversationalist. No author-pomposity, and a remarkable tolerance for basic questions (I imagine students at Macalester vie to enroll in his classes). James explicates slavery in Jamaica vs. slavery in the U.S. with illustrative demographics. He dispatches the obligatory "dialect" issue gracefully, tossing off references to Austen, Twain, and Faulkner in the first minutes. (Quelle trio--imagine those three on a raft, or in a tree together.) Ashbrook's enthusiasm for the novel sounds genuine, if occasionally off-key in the moments when his radio-verve voice pumps up brutal incidents from the book. James, unfazed, reads the selected horrific excerpt at Minute 16 with matter-of-fact gravity (not for young ears).

Green-eyed Omen
By Minute 18:29 Ashbrook has set James up for a compelling introduction of Lilith, the character who took over as James started to write The Book of Night Women. He says, "She came on as this slave who sort of grew up with a taste of freedom, and did not appreciate losing it. She's very feisty, she's very spunky, she's also very, very rude--she doesn't take anything from anybody." Ashbrook mentions that Lilith's green eyes are from her white overseer father, and James goes with it: "It's sort of an open secret, but it's also kind of an omen, you know nothing good can come from this--these bright, green eyes that sort of look like they shine in the dark." 

The rest of the podcast episode has its moments, but also some less-than-on-point caller comments. To my taste it also contains too many spoilers, so I recommend saving Minutes 20-46 until after you read the book.  Particularly worth going back for is James's definition of "true womanness that makes a man scream" at Minute 22.

If you prefer a silent approach, you can also read an excerpt on Penguin's promo page. James's blog is here.