A Brief History of Seven Killings

A Brief History of Seven Killings

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The latest novel to win the Booker Prize is the incredible A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Jamaican author Marlon James. It tells the tale of the rampant gang culture that took place in Kingston during the late 70’s and early 80’s, including Bob Marley’s assassination attempt. While the characters are fiction, the historical period is not. The political parties, the ghetto dons, the CIA operatives, the rule of Michael Manley, and the Rastafari ideology – all are accurate historical references. The story is told in multiple voices: gang members who “chat bad,” a philosophical ghost, one woman who reinvents herself with a new name and a new city every time she appears.

A Brief History of Seven Killings is a meaty book, and not an easy beach read – it’s violent, and unfair (per my American sense of justice), and filled with drugs and blood and guns. But I read it on the beach anyway…in Jamaica! I flew into Kingston and drove through the Spanish Town ghetto that I had been reading about for days (on my way to a totally safe, beautiful little resort). I asked Jamaicans about the history I was reading, and it was cool to hear about it from people who were little kids during this time. Violence is on every page of this book, and just when I thought I was immune to it, some new disgusting version of human disgrace appeared. For instance, one of the gang members tells in passing – almost like a joke – that he scraped out the insides of a dead baby, filled it with bags of a cocaine, and had a girl carry the baby to Miami to deliver the drugs the day after her quinceñera. Blech, I was not immune to that.

But truly, I loved this book. I feel that Marlon James gave me a true cultural immersion. The most wonderful thing about this book is the language – as you read, you truly can hear the Jamaican accents and slang. I learned so many crazy curse words: bomboclaat, fuckery, batty boy, rhaatid. A wah di rass clot yuh chat bout? 

If a man call himself Rasta today, by next week that is him speaking prophecy. He don’t have to be too smart either, just know one or two hellfire and brimstone verse from the Bible. Or just claim it come from Leviticus since nobody ever read Leviticus. This is how you know. Nobody who get to the end of Leviticus can still take that book seriously. Even in a book full of it, that book is mad as shit. Don’t lie with man as with woman, sure I can run with that reasoning. But don’t eat crab? Not even with the nice, soft, sweet roast yam? And why kill a man for that? And trust me, the last thing any man who rape my daughter going get to do is marry her. How, when I slice him up piece by piece, keeping him alive for all of it and have him watch me feed him foot to stray dog?

The cover of the book touts a quote from The Wall Street Journal: “A tour de force.” I wholeheartedly agree – it’s a fine, albeit formidable, success.

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