A Brief History of Seven Killings
By Marlon James
2015 Man Booker Prize
Marlon James sets himself the very large task of taking us behind and inside the turmoil of the Jamaican Elections of 1976 and 1978, including the before (that included the shooting of Bob Marley and associates), the “clean-up” (in short, bloody wholesale murders) following, gang skirmishes for dominance, political intrigues involving the CIA fearing that PNP victory meant closer ties to Cuba, and what musician (called the Singer) Bob Marley’s role in all this was and wasn’t.
What makes the job so large is that for most people Jamaica is nothing more than a vacation spot and history be damned. Nonetheless, intrigue and gang warfare is a big draw and you’ll find it aplenty here. But be forewarned, it is bloody and brutal and harrowing in a thousand different ways, not the least of which is the zombizing of young boys into coldblooded killers. Sometimes you’ll just have to stop because it gets to be too much to bear.
While this may sound straightforward, prepare yourself for anything but. The novel follows a linear chronological route; however, within the big section divides you’ll find much jumping about. You’ll also find very long stretches of Jamaican dialect that James has modified quite a bit, probably for reasons of accessibility. These two elements, which can be challenging at times, really make this novel the standout that it is. James, with his tone, his rawness, his descriptive powers, and his intimate understanding of his homeland, puts you in the midst of the turmoil and into the minds of the gang leaders, the CIA agents, the disposable boys, and other characters, so you feel and taste the Jamaica of these murderous years.
As you read A Brief History of Seven Killings, you may find yourself thinking about Alejandro González Iñárritu’s really impressive breakout film Amores Perros. (If you missed it, we recommend it highly.) You might think of this as well: what Iñárritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga might do with James’s powerful and evocative novel. w/c