“And killing don’t need no reason. This is ghetto. Reason is for rich people. We have madness.” ― Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings
At 700 pages, A Brief History of Seven Killings is a humongous book that is extremely well-written. At the outset, the book is a challenging read. Initially, you re-read sentences and refer back to the character list—that spans from Jamaicans and Americans to journalists and ghosts—to understand who is talking. Slowly, their dialect, words and life start to wash over you. The story grips you and sucks you in.
The challenge with the book is not just the dialect (you get used to that after sometime!) but the long cast of characters. The book demands a lot of concentration so that you can grasp who is speaking what, where, when and why. Every chapter is told from the point of view of a different character. The 700 pages are needed to understand the various characters and their stories.
Before reading this book, I had no idea about the history and politics of Jamaica. I didn’t even know there was an assassination attempt on Bob Marley—the singer, in the book—in 1976. I had just the faintest idea about the country’s drug trade, corrupt police, scheming politics, poverty and turbulence. The book was a revelation. It captures the history of three decades.
“One of the things I fucking hate about my fellow Americans: whenever they fly to a foreign country, first thing they do, they try to find as much of America as they can get their hands on, even if it’s food in the shitty cafeteria.”
If shit and fuck offend you, this book is probably not for you. Marlon uses expletives just the way the speakers use them. He doesn’t clean up their language. He allows them to tell their story as they want to, in their own words. This is such a different form of storytelling. Also, the book is not for the faint of heart. It is brutal and violent. It is peppered with a few gay sex scenes too.
“—The problem with a book is that you never know what it’s planning to do to you until you’re too far into it.”
Marlon could have been describing his own book because that is exactly what the book did to me. After the first 100 pages, I started reading the Jamaican dialect with ease. After the next 200 pages, I made half-baked failed attempts at writing some stories in that dialect. Somewhere in the last 200 pages, a myriad of Jamaicans visited me in my dreams—they were nightmares, actually—and I started crying and praying for them.
The book definitely deserves its accolades. You would remember it not just because you ploughed through the tough read that the 2015 Man Booker Prize winner proves to be but because even long after you have completed the book, the characters haunt you, the place grips you and you can see the truth behind it all. The strong story leaves you weak in the end.
“—Do you know what we mean by Cold War? —War don’t have no temperature.”
About the Author:
Marlon James is a Jamaican novelist. He has published three novels: The Book of Night Women, John Crow’s Devil and A Brief History of Seven Killings.
Author: Marlon James
Publisher: One World Publications
Release: September 2015
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
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