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A Brief History of Seven Killings
Cover of A Brief History of Seven Killings
A Brief History of Seven Killings
A Novel
Borrow Borrow Borrow
Winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize

One of Entertainment Weekly's Top 10 Books of the Decade

One of the Top 10 Books of 2014 – Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

A "thrilling, ambitious . . . intense" (Los Angeles Times) novel that explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s, from the author of Black Leopard, Red Wolf
In A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James combines brilliant storytelling with his unrivaled skills of characterization and meticulous eye for detail to forge an enthralling novel of dazzling ambition and scope.
On December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert to ease political tensions in Kingston, seven gunmen stormed the singer's house, machine guns blazing. The attack wounded Marley, his wife, and his manager, and injured several others. Little was officially released about the gunmen, but much has been whispered, gossiped and sung about in the streets of West Kingston. Rumors abound regarding the assassins' fates, and there are suspicions that the attack was politically motivated.
A Brief History of Seven Killings delves deep into that dangerous and unstable time in Jamaica's history and beyond. James deftly chronicles the lives of a host of unforgettable characters – gunmen, drug dealers, one-night stands, CIA agents, even ghosts – over the course of thirty years as they roam the streets of 1970s Kingston, dominate the crack houses of 1980s New York, and ultimately reemerge into the radically altered Jamaica of the 1990s. Along the way, they learn that evil does indeed cast long shadows, that justice and retribution are inextricably linked, and that no one can truly escape his fate.
Gripping and inventive, shocking and irresistible, A Brief History of Seven Killings is a mesmerizing modern classic of power, mystery, and insight.
Winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize

One of Entertainment Weekly's Top 10 Books of the Decade

One of the Top 10 Books of 2014 – Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

A "thrilling, ambitious . . . intense" (Los Angeles Times) novel that explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s, from the author of Black Leopard, Red Wolf
In A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James combines brilliant storytelling with his unrivaled skills of characterization and meticulous eye for detail to forge an enthralling novel of dazzling ambition and scope.
On December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert to ease political tensions in Kingston, seven gunmen stormed the singer's house, machine guns blazing. The attack wounded Marley, his wife, and his manager, and injured several others. Little was officially released about the gunmen, but much has been whispered, gossiped and sung about in the streets of West Kingston. Rumors abound regarding the assassins' fates, and there are suspicions that the attack was politically motivated.
A Brief History of Seven Killings delves deep into that dangerous and unstable time in Jamaica's history and beyond. James deftly chronicles the lives of a host of unforgettable characters – gunmen, drug dealers, one-night stands, CIA agents, even ghosts – over the course of thirty years as they roam the streets of 1970s Kingston, dominate the crack houses of 1980s New York, and ultimately reemerge into the radically altered Jamaica of the 1990s. Along the way, they learn that evil does indeed cast long shadows, that justice and retribution are inextricably linked, and that no one can truly escape his fate.
Gripping and inventive, shocking and irresistible, A Brief History of Seven Killings is a mesmerizing modern classic of power, mystery, and insight.
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    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 never seem to get there and you’re just dead. Dead. It sounds final but it’s a word missing an ing. You come across men longer dead than you, walking all the time though heading nowhere and you listen to them howl and hiss because we’re all spirits or we think we are all spirits but we’re all just dead. Spirits that slip inside other spirits. Sometimes a woman slips inside a man and wails like the memory of making love. They moan and keen loud but it comes through the window like a whistle or a whisper under the bed, and little children think there’s a monster. The dead love lying under the living for three reasons. (1) We’re lying most of the time. (2) Under the bed looks like the top of a coffin, but (3) There is weight, human weight on top that you can slip into and make heavier, and you listen to the heart beat while you watch it pump and hear the nostrils hiss when their lungs press air and envy even the shortest breath. I have no memory of coffins.

    But the dead never stop talking and sometimes the living hear. This is what I wanted to say. When you’re dead speech is nothing but tangents and detours and there’s nothing to do but stray and wander awhile. Well, that’s at least what the others do. My point being that the expired learn from the expired, but that’s tricky. I could listen to myself, still claiming to anybody that would hear that I didn’t fall, I was pushed over the balcony at the Sunset Beach Hotel in Montego Bay. And I can’t say shut your trap, Artie Jennings, because every morning I wake up having to put my pumpkin-smashed head back together. And even as I talk now I can hear how I sounded then, can you dig it, dingledoodies? meaning that the afterlife is just not a happening scene, not a groovy shindig, Daddy-O, see those cool cats on the mat? They could never dig it, and there’s nothing to do but wait for the man that killed me, but he won’t die, he only gets older and older and trades out wives for younger and younger and breeding a whole brood of slow-witted boys and running the country down into the ground.

    Dead people never stop talking and sometimes the living hear. Sometimes he talks back if I catch him right as his eyes start to flicker in his sleep, talks until his wife slaps him. But I’d rather listen to the longer dead. I see men in split breeches and bloody longcoats and they talk, but blood comes out of their mouths and good heavens that slave rebellion was such ghastly business and that queen has of course been of bloody awful use ever since the West India Company began their rather shoddy decline compared to the East and why are there so many negroes taking to sleeping so unsoundly wherever they see fit and confound it all I seem to have misplaced the left half of my face. To be dead is to understand that dead is not gone, you’re in the flatness of the deadlands. Time doesn’t stop. You watch it move but you are still, like a painting with a Mona Lisa smile. In this space a three-hundred-year-old slit throat and two-minute-old crib death is the same.

    If you don’t watch how you sleep, you’ll find yourself the way the living found you. Me, I’m lying on the floor, my head a smashed pumpkin with my right leg twisted behind the back and my two arms bent in a way that arms aren’t supposed to bend and from high up, from the balcony I look...

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from July 14, 2014
    There are many more than seven killings in James’s (Dayton Literary Peace Prize winner for The Book of Night Women) epic chronicle of Jamaica’s turbulent past, but the centerpiece is the attempted assassination of Bob Marley on December 3, 1976. Through more than a dozen voices, that event is portrayed as the inevitable climax of a country shaken by gangs, poverty, and corruption. Even as the sweeping narrative continues into 1990s New York, the ripples of Jamaica’s violence are still felt by those who survived. James’s frenetic, jolting narrative is populated by government agents, ex-girlfriends, prisoners, gang members, journalists, and even ghosts. Memorable characters (and there are several) include John-John K, a hit man who is very good at his job; Papa-Lo, don of the Copenhagen City district of Kingston; and Josey Wales, who begins as Papa-Lo’s head enforcer but ends up being a major string-puller in the country’s most fateful events. Much of the conflict centers on the political rivalry of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People’s National Party (PNP), which involves everyone from the CIA (which comes off as perennially paranoid about “isms,” namely communism) to the lowest Jamaican gang foot soldier. The massive scope enables James to build an incredible, total history: Nina Burgess, who starts the book as a receptionist in Kingston and ends as a student nurse in the Bronx, inhabits four different identities over the course of 15 years. She is undoubtedly one of this year’s great characters. Upon finishing, the reader will have completed an indispensable and essential history of Jamaica’s troubled years. This novel should be required reading.

  • Kirkus

    June 15, 2014
    An assassination attempt on Bob Marley stokes this sweeping portrait of Jamaica, encompassing a host of gangsters, CIA agents, journalists and businessmen.Marley is never mentioned by name in the third novel by James (The Book of Night Women, 2009, etc.). But "the singer" is unmistakably him, and the opening chapters, set in late 1976, evoke an attempt on his life sparked by tensions between gangs representing rival political parties. (In reality, as in the novel, the singer was wounded and went into exile in England.) And though we never hear Marley in his own voice, James' massive novel makes room for pretty much everybody else's. Most prominent are Papa-Lo and Josey Wales, kingpins of the Copenhagen City gangs; Barry, a cynical CIA agent with orders to stop the march of communism though the red menace is the least of the island's problems; Alex, a Rolling Stone reporter assigned to cover Marley who becomes enmeshed with the gangs; and Nina, who had a fling with Marley. As in his previous novels, James is masterful at inhabiting a variety of voices and dialects, and he writes unflinchingly about the violence, drug-fueled and coldblooded, that runs through the island's ghettos. Moreover, he has a ferocious and full character in Nina, who persistently reboots her life across 15 years, eventually moving to New York; her story exemplifies both the instinct to escape violence and the impossibility of shaking it entirely. But the book is undeniably overstuffed, with plenty of acreage given to low-level thugs, CIA-agent banter and Alex's outsider ramblings about Jamaican culture. James' fiction thus far is forming a remarkable portrait of Jamaica in the 19th and 20th centuries, but the novel's sprawl can be demanding.An ambitious and multivalent, if occasionally patience-testing, book.

    COPYRIGHT(2014) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from October 15, 2014
    This lengthy novel by the acclaimed Jamaican author of The Book of Night Women (2009) is a densely imaginative fictional retelling of the 1976 assassination attempt on reggae superstar Bob Marley ( The Singer ) and its aftermath. It is far less about music than about Jamaican (and internationalthe CIA is implicitly engaged) politics and its gangs, inextricably linked. The book is, as a result, nasty, complicated, violent, and profane. That it is also beautiful is testimony to author James' immense talent. Despite the lack of suspense (one knows Marley survives, though James handles the ensuing events deftly), James keeps the pages turning. He handles a complex cast of characters with disparate viewpoints and voices (literally) that, although daunting to readers unfamiliar with the country's culture and speech ( No star me no know a who that? ), will please and delight (and shock) many but should impress all diligent readers. This is a breakthrough novel not only for the author but also for Caribbean and world literature. The Kingston milieu (and its extensions, including New York) is made horrifyingly believable; the patois is rhythmic, slangy, and often quite funny. This is a unique, difficult (the latter portions less so), and very worthwhile reading experience.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2014, American Library Association.)

  • Library Journal

    May 1, 2014

    In his novels, Jamaican-born James, winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, centers on his homeland while giving larger scope to the African diaspora in caustically beautiful language. His third novel offers a fictional investigation of the attempted assassination of reggae star Bob Marley just days before Jamaica's 1976 general election and only 48 hours before Marley was scheduled to play the Smile Jamaica Concert. A featured author at LJ's Day of Dialog.

    Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from July 1, 2014

    In her new work, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Smiley (A Thousand Acres) moves from the 1920s to the 1950s as she unfolds the life of Iowa farmers Rosanna and Walter Langdon and their five children: brilliant, mercurial Frank; animal-loving Joe, the real farmer of the bunch; sweet Lillian, who enters into a happy marriage that has repercussions for the rest of her family; iconoclastic, bookish Henry; and baby Claire. As the children grow up and sometimes move away, we get a wide-angle view of mid-century America; a cousin's experiences with radicals in Chicago and San Francisco also take us beyond the hardscrabble life of the farm, as does the advent of World War II, which leads to Frank's enlistment and eventually to Cold War rumblings. Told in beautiful, you-are-there language, the narrative lets ordinary events accumulate to give us a significant feel of life at the time, with the importance and dangers of farming particularly well portrayed. In the end, though, this is the story of parents and children, of hope and disappointment, with Frank's prickly and uncomfortable story the fulcrum. VERDICT Highly recommended; a lush and grounded reading experience. [See Prepub Alert, 4/7/14.]--Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

    Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Library Journal

    November 1, 2014

    James follows the violent 1976 invasion of Bob Marley's home and its aftermath: spanning countries, decades, and characters. (LJ 7/14)

    Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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