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A Brief History of Seven Killings

By: Marlon James

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Imprint: Riverhead Books

Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9781594486005

Other Formats:

Electronic | Audio | Trade Paperback

On Sale: | Pages: 704

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  • Reviews
From the acclaimed author ofThe Book of Night Womencomes a masterfully written novel that explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s. On December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert, gunmen stormed his house, machine guns blazing. The attack nearly killed the Reggae superstar, his wife, and his manager, and injured several others. Marley would go on to perform at the free concert on December 5, but he left the country the next day, not to return for two years. Deftly spanning decades and continents and peopled with a wide range of charactersassassins, journalists, drug dealers, and even ghostsA Brief History of Seven Killingsis the fictional exploration of that dangerous and unstable time and its bloody aftermath, from the streets and slums of Kingston in the 70s, to the crack wars in 80s New York, to a radically altered Jamaica in the 90s. Brilliantly inventive and stunningly ambitious, this novel is a revealing modern epic that will secure Marlon James place among the great literary talents of his generation.
While A BRIEF HISTORY OF SEVEN KILLINGS ends on a somewhat hopeful note, the tone is overwhelmingly bleak. But James turns his murderers and drug dealers into people we care about, and in the process shows the human side of evil. The subject matter may not be pretty, but this is a visceral, challenging novel that draws you in and refuses to let go.
—Bookreporter.com
This is a wildly ambitious and brilliant book of ambiguity and ambivalence. It's also one of despair and cutting cultural commentary. The byzantine plot involves so many characters Mr. James provides a listing. Each gets his or her own voice and, as they cross cultures, the voices change, adapting to the milieu. Language becomes camouflage and con, as does identity. Language also explodes into emotion. The patois can be hard to follow. Go with the flow.... Mr. James, a Jamaican who knows his country all too well, commands texture, his key achievement hallucinatory evocations of neighborhoods, airports, a crack house.... Mr. James raises fiction's ante throughout this bravura novel, raising cultural issues along the way that still disturb. As well they should.
—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It helps that James, as in his “John Crow's Devil” (2005) and “The Book of Night Women” (2009), is a virtuoso at depicting violence, particularly at the beginning of this book, where we witness scene after scene of astonishing sadism, as young men and boys are impelled by savagery toward savagery of their own. This, again, is how history feels to those on the wrong side of it, and the novel's great strength is the way it conveys the degradation of Kingston's slums.... In the end, the book is not only persuasive but tragic, though in its polyphony and scope it's more than that. Indeed, the further I read, the more the book's increasing sense of absurdity, its pop culture references, its compulsive ventriloquism and its range of tones — comic, surreal, nightmarish, parodic — began to remind me uncannily of David Foster Wallace's all-or-nothing “Infinite Jest.... Spoof, nightmare, blood bath, poem, “A Brief History of Seven Killings” eventually takes on a mesmerizing power. It makes its own kind of music, not like Marley's, but like the tumult he couldn't stop.
—New York Times
The book is dominated by male voices. In the background, women nag their husbands or are assaulted to provide gritty details. The only fully realized female character is a cynical and smart woman who witnesses the attack on Marley's compound.... When the book moves forward in time to 1985, it loses its tautness. James follows the characters as they build a drug trafficking business in America with CIA support. The expletive-laced language and combination of sex and violence stops being shocking. If the novel is meant to show the devastating effects of CIA destabilization campaigns on communities from Kingston to Brooklyn, it needed stronger editing to keep the reader from becoming inured to the violence.
—Dallas Morning News
“A Brief History of Seven Killings,” Marlon James' epic novel about what he refers to as “post-post-colonial” Jamaica, is so thick with characters and voices that it induces feelings of disorientation similar to traveling to a foreign country for the first time.... Writing this dense requires dedication and focus on the part of the reader. It's easy to get tripped up by the shifting of voices and narrators as James careens through Jamaica's modern history. James' use of island dialect only adds to the difficulty of following the story. His approach is both thrilling and infuriating. But this is history as it actually unfolds — messy, multifaceted and full of loose ends.... The rhapsodic tension and violence of the society that spawned these artists are not easy to look at, but in the hands of a writer like James, it's impossible to look away.
—Seattle Times
This compelling, not-so-brief history brings off a social portrait worthy of Diego Rivera, antic and engagé, a fascinating tangle of the naked and the dead.... In short, the epic sweep of “Seven Killings” never feels cartoonish. James takes us deep into his criminal power dynamics, in monologues laced with breathtaking obscenities.... James's storylines often end with a bullet, but they never shortchange shooter or victim.... What most distinguishes “The Brief History of Seven Killings” isn't the outrages, but rather the odyssey.
—Washington Post
The novel's many, chronologically snarled strands are narrated, for the most part, in a Jamaican patois which, though essential to the book's sense of real lives, can be hard going for the uninitiated. Similarly, the story's non-chronological layering makes stiff demands on the reader's ability to keep everything and everyone straight. Still, this, too, is essential to the novel's character, reflecting the actual confusion of tangentially and covertly connected events.... Put plainly, “A Brief History of Seven Killings” calls for a stout heart, strong stomach and prodigious powers of concentration, but the reader so equipped will be rewarded with an experience he or she will not soon forget. The novel makes no compromises, but is cruelly and consummately a work of art.
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
"A Brief History of Seven Killings" is Jamaican-born author Marlon James's tour de force fictional chronicle of intertwined political and criminal conspiracies stretching from the Caribbean to Manhattan. It is by no means brief: The plot spans from 1976 to 1991, and the number of violent deaths described by Mr. James exceeds seven times seven. The novel has some fourscore characters, about 15 of whom narrate its patchwork text in a remarkable range of points of view, accents, jargon, patois and dialect.
—Wall Street Journal
How to describe Marlon James's monumental new novel “A Brief History of Seven Killings”? It's like a Tarantino remake of “The Harder They Come” but with a soundtrack by Bob Marley and a script by Oliver Stone and William Faulkner, with maybe a little creative boost from some primo ganja. It's epic in every sense of that word: sweeping, mythic, over-the-top, colossal and dizzyingly complex. It's also raw, dense, violent, scalding, darkly comic, exhilarating and exhausting — a testament to Mr. James's vaulting ambition and prodigious talent.
—New York Times
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