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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
Longlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize
A recipient of the 2015 American Book Award
One of the Top 10 Books of 2014 – Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

A New York Times Book Review Notable Book
Named a best book of the year by:
The New York Times
Chicago Tribune
The Washington Post
The Boston Globe
Time
Newsweek
The Huffington Post
The Seattle Times
The Houston Chronicle
Publishers Weekly
Library Journal
Popsugar
BookPage
BuzzFeed Books
Salon
Kansas City Star
L Magazine
From the acclaimed author of The Book of Night Women comes a "musical, electric, fantastically profane" (The New York Times) epic that explores the tumultuous world of Jamaica over the past three decades.
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.
From the Hardcover edition.
Longlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize
A recipient of the 2015 American Book Award
One of the Top 10 Books of 2014 – Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

A New York Times Book Review Notable Book
Named a best book of the year by:
The New York Times
Chicago Tribune
The Washington Post
The Boston Globe
Time
Newsweek
The Huffington Post
The Seattle Times
The Houston Chronicle
Publishers Weekly
Library Journal
Popsugar
BookPage
BuzzFeed Books
Salon
Kansas City Star
L Magazine
From the acclaimed author of The Book of Night Women comes a "musical, electric, fantastically profane" (The New York Times) epic that explores the tumultuous world of Jamaica over the past three decades.
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.
From the Hardcover edition.
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  • From the book

    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 like a dead spider. I am up there and down here and from up there I see myself the way my killer saw me. The dead relive a motion, an action, a...

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.

  • 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.

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A Novel
Marlon James
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