A Brief History of Seven Killings

Marlon James; 2014

A Brief History of Seven Killings is easily one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read in terms of content and language. It begins with a fictionalized account of the attempted assassination of Bob Marley (referred to as “The Singer” in the novel). Very little is known about the assassination attempt, and Marlon James fills the gap. But the book is less about The Singer and more about the gang violence that has controlled Jamaica since its independence in 1962. The turf war between the Jamaican Labor Party and People’s National Party led to extreme poverty and violence. The Singer is caught in the middle, along with their criminal gangs. At the same time, the CIA, Cubans, and the Colombian drug cartels were all converging on Jamaica with guns and money. This all comes to a head with the peace concert in December 1976. The book is also partially based on the real-life Shower Posse (renamed Storm Posse in the novel), who began their rise in Kingston in the 60’s and spread to America; by he 1980’s they controlled a significant portion of the crack trade in New York and Miami. The result is a novel that lays out an intricate set of connections and potential truths between the attempted assassination of the Singer and the rise and fall of a JLP gang leader named Josey Wales. If all of that sounds confusing, it’s because it is. While reading this I had to keep stopping and did a lot of google searches.

IMG_3866Brief History is nearly 700 pages and starts with a four-page cast of characters. It’s extremely violent, contains a ton of pop culture references, and heavily features Jamaican Patois. It’s told from over a dozen points of view and takes place over the course of 30 years. It is by no means an easy, breezy read. It started to lose me towards the middle-end, when James takes us away from Jamaica and to the United States, but it came together so brilliantly in the last section that I was knocked over by the time I got to the last page. It took me so long to read this that now I feel a little bit weird that I’m not toting it around with me anymore. Not for the faint of heart, but a seriously rewarding read.

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