Thoughts On A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

Introduction to my “Thoughts on…” Series:   Before I get into the real meat (or kale for the vegans out there) of this post I’d li...

Introduction to my “Thoughts on…” Series:
 Before I get into the real meat (or kale for the vegans out there) of this post I’d like to introduce a new series of articles that I’d like to start here on fringe musings. I won’t call it a book club because I hate clubs, but basically on the concluding Sunday of every month I’m going to write down  (and subsequently type up) my thoughts on a book that I’ve read that month.  At the end of each article, I’ll introduce the book for the following month with a convenient link for where to purchase the book should you be so inclined.   I invite anyone and everyone to join in reading these books, and would love to hear YOUR thoughts about the novel in the comments at the end of this post. Thanks for reading and enjoy!

Rating: 4.75/5
You’ll Like This If: you're interested in the social and political climate in Jamaica in the 1960s-1980s and how this shapes the lives of the people living there and/or if you generally enjoy beautiful writing and captivating character studies.

The inaugural book in this series of posts is A Brief History of Seven Killings by Jamaican author, Marlon James.   In order for you to get a sense of how much I really loved this book, I’ll point out that I actually had planned on writing about Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita today, thinking that perhaps it would be wise to begin with a classic, something that is fairly universally loved and is wholeheartedly brilliant.  While I’m not claiming that A Brief History is superior per se, I will say that it had a considerably more profound effect on me, thus leading to my last-minute decision to discuss this book instead.  Following the stories of a sizable cast of characters (you’ll find a four page character list that prefaces this book), this book is often touted as depicting the events surrounding the 1976 attempted assassination of Bob Marley (referred to as “The Singer” in the text), although it more accurately concerns the stories of several characters connected to the Singer in some way over two decades.  The reader is subjected to brutality, violence, drugs and even the brief glimpses of hope as experienced by all points of view, during which we are immersed in life on the streets of West Kingston through James’ clever use of Jamaican dialect and slang throughout the novel.  The majority of the characters are rival gang/posse members with connections to one of the two major Jamaican political parties, the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP) or the People's National Party (PLP).  We watch the effect that these affiliations have on street life in Kingston, and more generally how corruption and desperation for power shapes the events that unfold over the course of many years.  While the Singer and those closest to him represent a source of peace and hope, not everyone involved stands to benefit from the unification of the ghetto, leading to a clash of ideals even within factions.   

You’ll hear some people say that this book can be difficult to get into and a challenge to make sense of initially, and while I disagree, I do see where they might be coming from. The litany of characters can make it onerous to follow, and without things being explicitly explained it can be hard at first to put together all the pieces of this fabulous puzzle.  That being said, I would not call this a difficult read, and although some chapters were slow in that the plot was not necessarily furthered significantly, the beauty of the writing and the depth of character development were more than enough to carry you through the less eventful moments.  If you are not one for depictions of violence and crude language perhaps leave this one on the shelf, but I would in that case, strongly recommend that you get over yourself and just read this stunning book.

This novel was not only an enjoyable and captivating read, it also makes you think deeply about the situation that one is born into and how this so radically defines who they are and what they do.

But in another city, another valley, another ghetto, another slum, another favela, another township, another intifada, another war, another birth, somebody is singing Redemption Song, as if the Singer wrote it for no other reason but for this sufferah to sing, shout, whisper, weep, bawl, and scream right here, right now.

- Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings

Up Next: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

What are your thoughts on A Brief History of Seven Killings? Any suggestions for future books?

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