#8 A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

“ — 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.”

A friend of mine, Gokul Paranjothi — who is also doing an amazing reading challenge — gave me this book for my birthday, way back in February. The six months since, have seen many false starts, stagnant breaks, literary distractions and a decided hesitance to write about it. Right off the bat, I must confess, ‘A Brief History..’ was no easy read.

“And killing don’t need no reason. This is ghetto. Reason is for rich people. We have madness.”

A Brief History… is Marlon James’ gruesome ode to Jamaica. Poverty, shoot-outs, gang wars and drug abuse form the foundation for this gut wrenching tale. The absolute macabre picture painted by James can best be described in the words of Joseph Wales, a mafia man at the very center of this story. In response to V.S Naipaul’s romanticized description “Is only when you live here as long as me that you know the sort of animal it is.” , he says “the beauty of how him write that sentence still lie to you as to how ugly [West Kingston] is” .

“Jamaica never gets worse or better, it just finds new ways to stay the same.”

On the outset, A Brief History… is about the rash assassination attempt on Jamaican singing sensation, Bob Marley’s life. Set in a time of rising violence between Jamaica’s two main political parties, the assassination attempt occurs right before Marley’s peace concert — a political stunt masquerading as an attempt to bring Jamaica together. This was a time where political parties had enormous mafia pull, and the CIA too was attempting to interfere in Jamaica to keep out the wretched enemy, socialism. Unsurprisingly, it’s a time rife with drug wars, assassination attempts and political unrest. Using the mystery that surrounds these gunmen who were never identified, Marlon James spins an intriguing story, sprawling across decades in Jamaica and America, following the ghost assassins as they attempt to reconcile with life after.

This is a story of several killings, of boys who meant nothing to a world still spinning, but each of them as they pass me carry the sweet-stink scent of the man that killed me.

Politics is at the very core of this book. Drugs, corruption, the CIA, gang wars, murder, this story has it all. What I loved about the book, were the diverse voices through which the story were told. The characters are so fantastically crafted and raw that each one of them evoked extremely strong emotions from the reader.

It’s been over a month since I finished reading this book, but I have really struggled to write a review for it. Possibly because I am struggling to articulate or even understand what exactly I felt about it. I read this book in bursts sometimes reading up to three hundred pages at time and sometimes unable to read more than a single page. I even took a two week long break in the middle of this book, to read other books. And it wasn’t just the gore that got me down.

Despite the plot having so much promise, I found myself often getting bored. The steady pace of the middle chunk of the book, just wasn’t enough to keep me excited. At places, the Jamaican English also compounded my frustrations, rendering chunks of the book too heavy for me. There was also a certain undeniable sadness to the story that kind of crept into me and got me down.

I honestly don’t know if I would recommend this book. I enjoyed reading it in bits and certainly have no regrets. Was it a phenomenal book that I would scream on the rooftops about? No. Is it an interesting read with good plot and solid characters? Definitely. Should you check it out? Why not.