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A Brief History of Seven Killings

A Brief History of Seven Killings

Marlon James's third novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, tells the story of Jamaica from December 1976 to March 1991. "It is a story worth telling, and a story about Jamaica that doesn’t only take place in Jamaica." (from The Guardian's review). The story is not brief, it is an impressive work, clocking in at just under 700 pages. And there are many more than seven deaths. I was enraptured from the first line:

Listen.
Dead people never stop talking. Maybe because death is not death at all, just a detention after school. You know where you're coming from and you're always returning from it. You know where you're going though you nevr seem to get there and you're just dead. Dead. It sounds final but its a word missing an ing...

 The main plot focuses on the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976. Marley is never referred to by name, only as "The Singer." And he provides the center of the story. But he's not just it. Marley is the starting point for a greater web of dynamics, as the NYT review describes: it is a "multilayered, choral inquiry into Jamaican politics and poverty, into race and class, and into the volatile relationship between the United States and the Caribbean." (X) The book began with a cast of characters, divided by location, which correlated with gang affiliation, and I did find myself constantly referring to this list as the book continued on. James divides his novel into five parts, "Original Rockers," "Ambush in the Night," "Shadow Dancin'," "White Lines / Kids in America" and "Sound Boy Killing," each a different day. There is a multitude of different narrators, which frustrated me at first, but I grew to love. Each character has a distinct voice and differing narration style. I learned so much about Jamaican history and Marlon James's writing was exquisite. I have a long list of quotes on my phone that I hoped to write in this review, but I will end with three, from very different characters: The first, a poetic narration from gang member "Bam-Bam" who has been hopped up on coke to kill:

I run fast to you, to see you, to put you down but
But Josey beat me to the bang
Bam Bam, wife dead
And your brethren
And your sistren
And anybody that play guitar
I hear the bam bam bam bam on the ground
And reach up and push my feet
Echo in my head, bam bam
Blood rushing beat bam bam
Bomboclaat fuckery, I wanted to shoot you first
Nobody goin' forget the man that shoot you

The second, a reminiscence on the attempted peace treaty between the JLP and the PNP by Josey Wales, head enforcer, don of Copenhagen City (James's fictional Jamaican ghetto) and leader of the Storm Posse:

Peace can't happen when too much to gain in war. And who want peace anyway when all that mean is that you still poor? You can lead a man to peace all you want. You can fly out the singer and make him sing for money to build a new toilet in the ghetto. You can go wind your waste in Rae Town or in Jungle and par with man who only last year kill your brother. But a man can only move so far... 

The third, from Nina Burgess, the main female character (I won't spoil you with her description):

I hate politics. I hate that just because I live here I'm supposed to live politics. And there's nothing you can do. If you don't live politics, politics will live you.

I loved this book. Truly. I read the whole thing in less than a day, and even though I felt it got long at times, by the end I realized that those long times were necessary for the total story. So I would definitely recommend if you're looking for a longer novel. I look forward to reading Marlon James's other works, The Book of Night Women and John Crow's Devil. My apologies for the long review (a long review for a long book?) Rating: ★★★★(★)

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