December 25, 2015

Book Review—A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

In the 1970s the world become disillusioned with rock and reggae became the new counter culture with Bob Marley as guru. As a sign of this prominence, The Singer organises the Smile Jamaica concert. Although an event that would resonate with the world at large, it was designed to help bring peace to the trouble island facing political corruption and gang violence. Told through the eyes of gang members, politicians, CIA operatives, abandoned women, and journalists, the full panorama of the tumultuous times comes to bear, with the ramifications having bearings into the following decades.

James’ tome owes a great deal to the multitudes of voices that fill its pages, whether it’s the Jamaican jive of Papa-lo or the domestic tinged machinations of Diflorio or the sanctimonious droning of journalist Alex Pierce. Like Faulkner, these numerous voices give us a unique vernacular on the unfolding events. Where it does stumble a little is that unlike Faulkner these shifts in voice do not always amount to a shift in perspective, rendering them repetition without reconstruction. Where it does come to bear is with its central subject. Of all the voices, the one that is never heard is The Singer. He is already a spirit in his own time, a myth being created as the actions unfold, and becomes the source of all hope, assurance, despair, and paranoia of all those in Jamaica. He becomes the symbol, the solution, the sage, the suspect, the sin, the song that all these cacophonous voices sing about.

Rich, alluring, and gritty, A Brief History of Seven Killings is a vibrant, multidimensional tale that divulges the personal within the monumental. 

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