"A powerful first novel . . . Writing with assurance and control, James uses his small-town drama to suggest the larger anguish of a postcolonial society struggling for its own identity."
--New York Times Book Review (Editors' Choice)
"Elements coalesce in a Jamaican stew spicier than jerk chicken. First novelist James moves effortlessly between lyrical patois and trenchant observations . . . It's 150-proof literary rum guaranteed to intoxicate and enchant. Highly recommended."
--Library Journal (*starred* review)
This stunning debut novel tells the story of a biblical struggle in a remote Jamaican village in 1957 with language as taut as classic works by Cormac McCarthy and a richness reminiscent of early Toni Morrison.
Marlon James was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1970. His second novel, The Book of Night Women, a New York Times Editors’ Choice, was released in 2009 to widespread critical acclaim. Currently a professor of literature and creative writing at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, he divides his time between Jamaica, New York City, and the Twin Cities.
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About the Author
Marlon James was born in Jamaica in 1970. His novel A Brief History of Seven Killings won the 2015 Man Booker Prize. It was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature for fiction, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for fiction, and the Minnesota Book Award. It was also a New York Times Notable Book. James is also the author of The Book of Night Women, which won the 2010 Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the Minnesota Book Award, and was a finalist for the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award in fiction and an NAACP Image Award. His first novel, John Crow’s Devil, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for first fiction and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and was a New York Times Editors’ Choice. James divides his time between Minnesota and New York.
Read an Excerpt
John Crow's Devil
By Marlon James
Akashic BooksISBN: 1-888451-82-3
Chapter OneThe Rum Preacher
Make we tell you bout the Rum Preacher. Even if you never live anywhere near them parts, you must did hear bout the Rum Preacher. After six years, false story and true story rub together so much that both start shine. People think that everything shoot to Hell after the Devil take hold of Lillamae Perkins, but if you did know Pastor Hector Bligh of the Holy Sepulchral Full Gospel Church of St. Thomas Apostolic, you would know him was on the road to Hell long before that.
Before Pastor Bligh come to Gibbeah nobody ever see a man of God drink. Some people say Second Book of John, verse one to eleven, say that Jesus turn water into wine, so him must did drink wine too. Three man who sit down outside the bar all day say that him is man after all and man have right to get drunk just as him have right to scratch him balls when him want to scratch him balls or beat him woman when she don't act right.
Bligh drink like drinking goin out of style. All Saturday night when him should be readying himself for church, him down the bar drinking liquor and talking out people business. And when the time come to do the preaching, him don't know what to say. We never see preaching like this yet. When Bligh drunk all you hear is mumble. When Bligh dry him sound like that mad captain in that Moby Dick picture that show at the Majestic. The preacher before him did have fire. Hector Bligh havenothing but ice. Maybe is fi we fault cause country people take things as them be, as if white man goin beat we if we change them.
Lillamae Perkins. Is was two years since the morning her father wake up but just for a minute to see him bed all red and blood gushing like spring from where him penis used to hang. Nobody never see what happen, but everybody see Lillamae, outside her gate looking like them obeah her, with one hand holding the knife and the other hand holding the bloody cocky. She eat green pawpaw to kill out the baby. Two years later, Sunday come and Pastor Bligh was him usual drunk self. Him fling himself into the Pastor seat by the pulpit like him would crash on the floor if him did miss. Lillamae goin up to the altar to have them drive out her sin and iniquity, even though Preacher never call nobody yet.
Everybody hear she.
"Lawd Jesus Christ! Lawd Jesus Christ! Consuming Fire! Consuming Fire! LAAAAAAAAAWD!!!"
Lillamae Perkins fling herself pon the ground. Her leg turn into scissors, she swing them open, then close, then open, and everybody could see her fishy which never cover up with no panty. Then she see Lucinda, who scream out to Holy Jesus Christ.
"Wha Jesus goin do fi you, river-whore? Satan watching you from you start mix tea," Lillamae say. People screaming and running, and tripping and crushing and more screaming, cause when she open her mouth is a man voice come out. Then she see the Pastor and all Hell break loose. Five deacon rush the altar. Churchgoer and sinner both call them "The Five."
"One idiot, two drunkard, one sick-fowl, and one who beat woman. Now who is who? Who is who?" is what she say. The Five circle her, wrestle her, but nobody could pin down Lillamae. She slip from one like grease and claw through another one face. She kick a deacon in him seed bag and five man become four. Lillamae beat up all of them. She crick the second man neck, break all of the third man finger, punch asthma back into the fourth man chest, and blind the last deacon in him left eye.
Nobody know where the knife come from. Some people say she jump, some people say she fly. When demon take you, you can do anything. All people see is when she leap after the Pastor with the knife and him hold out him hand like him was goin catch her and she stab right through him left hand middle and him stuck on the wall like Holy Jesus crucified.
"Fool. You should a do this two years ago when we was one. Now we is one and seven," was all she say. Pastor Bligh bawling and screaming, but nobody goin cross a girl with eight demon in her. Then she scream and run out of the church.
Two day pass and nobody can find Lillamae. Then Wednesday, a little boy find her body sailing down Two Virgins River. Pastor Bligh did drunk when him bury her. After that plenty people stop come to church.
* * *
Coming home from the bar, Pastor Bligh made his way up the road, teetering like a drunken colossus. But the fire dug holes in his gut and sent flame down his thighs screaming, Let me out! He moved over to the side of the road and released himself, bursting a black circle on the pavement with a torrent of yellow piss. The sun teased him from behind and suddenly there was lightness to the morning. He had learned long ago never to trust happiness. But something came over him, bringing both pleasure and a slight fear. A silliness that made him fall in love with pink-striped skies and opalescent dew bubbles and chickens crowing themselves awake. Bligh was still very much drunk. His pants were around his ankles and when he moved he tripped, fell backwards on the base of his skull, and knocked himself out.
A church sister saw him first. She had come out to water her hibiscus and thought a mad man or a drunkard had fallen dead in the road. She inched toward him, afraid that he was merely asleep and would awake at that very second to rape her with calloused hands and dirty fingernails. But when she saw Pastor Bligh's face, the woman frowned, disgusted and unsurprised. "Disgrace" she said. And yet she was relieved by Pastor Bligh's behavior, as were many in the village. So tormented was he by his own sin that he could never convict them of theirs. But as she summed him up from head to foot, her view came to a halt midway. There looking at her was his dark penis and balls, sprawled as carelessly as he was, bracketed by his thighs and the open ends of his shirt. She forgot his arms; the right spread open and the left under his back. She forgot his face, gaunt and gray, his mouth open and pooling with drool. She forgot his shoes, dirty, brown, and mostly covered by pants that strangled his ankles. There was only the thing, lifeless between two legs yet as monstrous as a serpent in Genesis. Her dark face went white, even pink, as she rushed back to her house. For several minutes he was unconscious. Minutes that horrified old women and scandalized children who passed by on the way to school. Lucinda, who never witnessed the incident, would nonetheless report of it in the first person in that tone she reserved for special heresies.
After the pee-pee incident, the concerned citizens of the village, namely Lucinda, had had enough.
"Him goin mistake him chair for a toilet next Sunday, just watch," said one observer, but as he was not a member of the church no one heard, anticipated, or dreaded it. In short, that person was not Lucinda, who had begun a letter-writing campaign to have Pastor Bligh removed. Lucinda remembered very little schooling other than the Bible, so her words often packed more Hellfire and damnation than she intended. She wrote to every church she knew, even the archdiocese, despite Pastor Bligh being no Catholic. Bligh answered to nobody but God, and Jesus wasn't saying anything that Lucinda wanted to hear.
Nobody answered Lucinda's letters. She would never curse God, but reminded Him that this was why she also prayed to someone else. Then the Majestic Cinema started showing Sunday matinees at 10:00 and chopped the halved congregation to a quarter. The Pastor now drank day and night. He was spiraling downward and would have taken the village with him were it not for the other, who lead them instead to a light blacker than the thickest darkness.
He came like a thief on a night colored silver. He came on two wheels, the muffler puffing a mist that made children cough in their sleep. As his motorcycle coursed up Brillo Road it left a serpentine trail of dust. There were no witnesses to his coming, save for an owl, the moon, and the Devil.
Excerpted from John Crow's Devil by Marlon James Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I purchased another novel by James some years ago and always wanted to read more from him, however my local book stores never had this novel in stock. Now, the ereader made it possible for me to continue reading James' work and I am intrigued to say the least. James provides authenticity and detail of the people in this small town. While the story seems to only be about the happenings of the townspeople, it is truly about so much more. There is a dichotomy throughout the story and immediately, the reader is struggling between which side is right... until the end, when we see that perception is not always reality. Irony at it's best, I would say and definitely a warning about being led blindly, overtaken by religion instead of being led by morality and personal spirituality. Please be prepared for dialect (which drew me in, but for some may be difficult).
This book is a page turner. I coulndn't put it down the plot was amazing and not what I expected. I felt like I was home in Jamaica again. I hope that he has another book on the way. Very well written!!!!!
This one comes at you fast, like horses breaking from the gate at CAYMANAS PARK. The moment I saw the title I knew that with any luck Iwould be in for a pretty good ride. long time Jamaicans know the history of the John crow and the legacy of the various 'RUM PREACHERS' That still ply their trade among the faithful. James takes the ledgend and makes it into one of the more enjoyable stories to come out of the island in the last fifty years. Written in the vein of Orlando Patterson's CHILDREN OF SISYPHUS, John Crow holds the reader with twist after twist that leaves you spinning. The deep exploration of Jamaican homophobia and the dangerous mix of religion and self destruction is a welcome 'outing' of the dichotomy that is Jamaica. On one hand saying 'OUT OF MANY, ONE PEOPLE' But welcoming only the ones that fit safely within their comfort zones. I do wish that he had gone into more details with the different people working their own brand of obeah throughout the story and the part it played in what was obviously a struggle between good and evil. Looking foward to more good works.
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. 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 is instead set in the backwoods of Jamaica in the 1950s, which like last year's Jesus Boy uses a conservative Christian church to tell a story surprisingly loaded with sex, violence and other deadly sins. And indeed, there's a reason that this literary debut from the Kingston immigrant and now Minnesota professor has been compared to both Toni Morrison and Gabriel Garcia Marquez; and that's because the text itself nearly reaches the level of magic realism from its pure poetic beauty, the story of the struggle between two local preachers of whom neither is nearly as innocent as they like portraying themselves. A dense and gripping novel that emotionally radiates like the heat of the Caribbean sun, it comes recommended to those who are fans of academic writing set in exotic locales.Out of 10: 8.7
Near perfect first novel set in Jamaica. Two reverends battle for the soul of fledgling Jamaican village in the late 1950's. James uses a voice that many readers may deem difficult to follow, at first, but really I found it quite easy to slip into the dialect that he implements. It is a fine specimen of terse literature that gets out of the story's way and takes the reader out of their comfort zone without ever letting the reader think about putting the book down.Highly recommended.