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A Brief History of Seven Killings

A Brief History of Seven Killings

Written by Marlon James

Narrated by Ensemble Cast


A Brief History of Seven Killings

Written by Marlon James

Narrated by Ensemble Cast

ratings:
4/5 (41 ratings)
Length:
26 hours
Released:
Oct 15, 2014
ISBN:
9781622315383
Format:
Audiobook

Description

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 characters—assassins, journalists, drug dealers, and even ghosts—A Brief History of Seven Killings is the fictional exploration of that dangerous and unstable time and its bloody aftermath, from the streets and slums of Kingston in the 1970s, to the crack wars in 1980s New York, to a radically altered Jamaica in the 1990s. 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.

Released:
Oct 15, 2014
ISBN:
9781622315383
Format:
Audiobook

About the author

Marlon James (Jamaica) was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1970. His first novel John Crow's Devil was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, and was a New York Times Editor's Choice. The Book of Night Women won the 2010 Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the Minnesota Book Award, and was a finalist for the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award in fiction, as well as an NAACP Image Award. His third novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, was awarded the Man Booker Prize in 2015, among other honours.


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4.1
41 ratings / 49 Reviews
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Critic reviews

  • "Black Leopard, Red Wolf" author Marlon James won the prestigious Man Booker Prize in 2015 for this inventive and poetic novel. It explores the chaotic streets of Kingston, Jamaica, using an assassination attempt on Bob Marley as a jumping-off point. The CIA, crack wars, gang violence, and reggae fill the pages in a book that, in the judges' words, "just keeps coming."

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Reader reviews

  • (5/5)
    James book is a dense novel told in a plethora of voices and from a similar number of perspectives. I have no idea how truly he reflects Jamaica here, but he has certainly created a fully inhabited, complex country with that name, a place that might well be a point to point analog of the "real" Jamaica. James' country is real, as are his characters. This is a masterwork, much of it written in Jamaican slang but one can pick up the rhythm of the language and meaning of unfamiliar words quickly as one reads.
  • (5/5)
    Wow. As dense a book as I've read in a good while. Thoroughly satisfying. The blurb mentions Tarantino and DFW but I was more reminded of Ellroy via Mailer's Harlot's Ghost. I'll need some recovery time as well as an extended visit to Wikipedia to sort out fact from fiction.
  • (5/5)
    Excellent. This book will test your patience - it's long, it has many narrators, different timelines, violent content, etc - but it will be worth it. I received the audio edition from Early Reviewers and it is magnificent. It's read by a full cast. The patois was an adjustment for a gringo like me but after I got used to it, it was a joy to listen to (content of the book excluded).
  • (4/5)
    This was a great read, very raw, and probably not sanctioned by the Jamaican tourism board.
  • (3/5)
    Very good, but not great exploration of a difficult moment in Jamaican history. This novel is at its best when it takes you into dangerous Kingston neighborhoods to explore gangland politics. However, there are also times when it is very slow going and some of these characters are difficult to get interested in. If you have an interest in Bob Marley, civil unrest in JA, or Kingston gangs--than you should check it out. If those aren't interests, you'll likely find this novel to be a very long 688 pages.
  • (5/5)
    Multiple narrators and a bunch of Jamaican slang made this book a very challenging read for me. Fascinating to see this description of Jamaica and the drug trade in the 70s through to the early 90s.
  • (3/5)
    A well written, quality book that I struggled with. Between shifting narrators, time periods, and dialects, I can usually keep up but this one lost me at times. I wanted to like it more than I did.
  • (5/5)
    excellent...worth looking up patois phrases if get confused in some passages. I got a discount copy of the paperback so I can better appreciatef a few sections .the extraordinary voice acting makes the Jamaican characters especially come alive. But the author's skill at varying his tone and point of view and voice is remarkable.
    And the excellent acting and Voice work along with the gripping narrative and Rich insights into all these different characters from all walks of society and races make it a compelling and exciting read. even if you just get the audiobook you should download the sample to your eReader of the opening section of the text version because all of the characters and their roles are outlined there in the very beginning.
  • (5/5)
    A wonderful doorstop of a novel that won the Man Booker price in 2015. It tells a story of gangs, drugs, Jamaica, New York and Bob Marley (though James only mentions him as "The Singer"). It starts in the 70's on Jamaica, where rival gangs battle for dominance and there's a plot to assassinate the Singer. It jumps a couple years to revisit the characters (and there are many) and how the aftermath affects them. Then we jump again to New York in the late 80's when cocaine was king and AIDs was on the rise. Its a dense, story with lots of characters (that I only occassionally lost track of, good thing there's a Cast of Characters at the beginning). Some chapters were written in a Jamaican patiois that was both hard to read but very engaging. Perhaps the most interesting literary device that James used was the occassional "greek chorus" chapters where a dead politician from the 50's comes on to give perspective on the story so far. Excellent read, worth the time.Quotes:Preacher says there is a god-shaped void in everybody life but the only thing ghetto people can fill a void with is void.Whamperer tastes just like a Whopper, minus the taste. Even the lettuce knows it can do better, so wet and bitter on this burger that I order every day for shits, just so I can tell my kids, You know what I had today? Poppa had a Whamperer, and they think their pop has a stammer.Holy fucking horseshit, Diflorio, here's a fuckup that that makes a fuckup go holy fuck, now that's a fuckup. Jesus Christ, man, now does he do it?If a man call himself Rasta today, by next week that is him speaking prophecy. He don't have to be too smart either, just know one or two hellfire and brimstone verse from the Bible. Or just claim it come from Leviticus since nobody ever read Leviticus. This is how you know. Nobody who get to the end of Leviticus can still take that book seriously. Even in a book full of it, that book is mad as shit.9/10 S: 7/6/19 - 8/15/19 (41 Days)
  • (2/5)
    Josey Wales is an ambitious gang leader with plans to take over the world. He is prepared to do anything to achieve this including taking over a rival gangs area and assassinating ‘The Singer’ a well known reggae superstar who is hoping to bring peace to his shattered country. The attempt fails, but Wales does manage to shatter the peace plans.

    In this seventies Jamaica nothing is straightforward; the politicians are crooks, the gangs are made up of evil thoughtless killers, and the CIA is involved in meddling in the affairs of the country, supposedly to stop a communist takeover from Cuba. But mostly being ineffective. As Wales climbs the greasy pole, he gets into the drug trade and it makes him rich, very rich. So America beckons but he may yet be betrayed by the only thing that he cannot control; his temper.

    This is a fictional account of the real events that took place in Jamaica in the 1970’s. ‘The Singer’, Bob Marley did survive an assassination attempt as he was preparing for a peace concert, and the gangs warfare was egged on by the political parties, spiralling out of control and ending up with a country where 600 murders happened in six months. James has tried to pull all this together to give us a story and it makes for grim unpalatable reading quite a lot of the time. Naturally he has got the patois off to a tee, and there is a storyline in there somewhere. It is full of pretty graphic violence between all the key characters and those unfortunate enough to come in range, with the CIA trying and failing to get a grip on the situation. Overall I didn’t feel that I got this book; I think that it was way too long and quite frequently felt tedious. If it was half the length it might have helped. There is a mass of characters in the book, some fairly distinct but a lot of the others seemed to blur into one mass of nastiness. Almost gave up, and almost gave it one star…
  • (5/5)
    I couldn't put this down!!! It's a wonderful book. Great storytelling!
  • (2/5)
    Couldnt finish this, just too heavy. I was drawn to it by the mention of Bob Marley, whose music I adore, but it barely mentions him at all. Exceptionally violent ( and I'm by no means squeamish) and the Jamaican slang just gave me headaches. Defintely one for hardier souls than myself.
  • (3/5)
    It took me a long time to get going in this book, partly caused by a heavy dose of Jamaican street language (and violence), partly caused by a bewildering cast of characters, partly caused by the characters remaining role playing schemata with no depth whatsoever. Having said that abour halfway the language clears up, the characters get a hold on you and the book gets a grip on you. Undoubtedly a virtuoso performance from a literary perspective but as a reading experience rather disappointing.
  • (4/5)
    By the end of this book I was really seriously enjoying it. So why 4 stars and not 5. Well it takes a while,to get into the book. You have to adjust to the rhythms of the language used and try to understand the complx mesh of characters and also the politics of 1970s Jamaica. This is just mildly frustrating at the start. Persevere and it really becomes a special book, and particularly exciting in the last two parts.
  • (4/5)
    This powerful weighty tale is told from multiple points of view -- black and white, straight and gay, educated and less so, powerful and (eventually) less so, alive and much much less so. The voices are distinctive, the characters honest in some essential sense, even as they are many of them crooks and murderers. While the "Singer" overshadows everything in this book, it is violence that largely permeates its pages as the animating spirit -- violence of every kind and persuasion, many of the acts crude and apparently senseless, and yet imbued with a certain logic when looked at from at least one character's point of view. The heroine of the tale is a survivor, a shapeshifter, a woman whose voice (and fear and yearning) remain constant even as her name changes. The men of the tale, nearly all of whom die in its pages, are brutal and clever and lyrical and passionate; their deaths do not end their voices; many ghosts speak in these pages long after they are gone. This is an epic tale; the language is relentless profane and often obscene besides. I was thinking in Jamaican curses for a month after I finished.
  • (4/5)
    "Preacher says there is a god-shaped void in everybody life but the only thing ghetto people can fill a void with is void." James is poetic but real in his book which is not only not "brief," but recounts more than "seven killings". This book is difficult, hard to read, transcendent.
  • (5/5)
    Superbly written complex story with multiple characters over several decades centred on a failed assassination attempt on Bob Marley. Fascinating insight into Jamaicanits culture politics and drug wars
  • (4/5)
    Intense, violent, a hard read. It took about 70 pages before I got into the style and started to work out what was going on. The multiple character first person when many of the persons are out of their trees on fear, drugs or both is a challenge. James built some amazing, resonant and unforgettable characters. A commitment of a book. I'd like to read James' other book but will likely need a vat of tea and a kitty to cuddle if it's anything like this.This was my first book club choice and taught me to check the number of pages before making a recommendation.
  • (4/5)
    Though it's almost always some combination of humourous, inventive, and profound, I still felt far too many pages to be a dull slog. The "plot" comes across as a patchwork of research highlights, losing purpose repeatedly and only barely sustained by the fun of the language.
  • (1/5)
    Since I try to read all Booker winners, I forced myself to read this totally repulsive book. It is the 38th Booker winner I have read. It was so awful I checked on the rating I gave other Booker winners to see whether I should quit reading such. I find I have given five stars to only three Booker winners (The Remains of the Day,,Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha, and Schindler's List) six have been given four stars, 8 have been given 3 and a half stars, four have been given three stars, five have been given two stars, two were given one and a half stars, four were given one star, and three besides this one got one-half star (The Ghost Road, Vernon God Little, and The Lines of Beauty) I wish I could give this one a negative number. It purports to be based on an event in Jamaica's history, but the telling of the event is so repulively done, with all expletives and obscenities and crudities undeleted, that it was an ordeal to read. And it is called "brief" though it goes on for 688 pages!. Every blurb on the book jacket is as far as I am concerned a total lie. It is undoubtedly the most repulsive and uninteresting book I have ever read and the best thing about my reading of it was when I got to page 688 and I could close the book and seek to forget it.
  • (4/5)
    An intense, epic tale, this is a visceral, vibrant, violent book, and an impressive feat of literary ventriloquism, largely written in various forms of Jamaican patois. Not an easy read, and not an easy book to judge either. A story that tells much about Jamaica's politics and ghetto gangs and their motivations. The starting point is the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in Kingston in 1976 - but the scope of the story is much wider.
  • (5/5)
    Superb. A book I have been waiting most of my life to read. Marlon James handling of voice and perspective is amazing, and whilst he does occasionally make the reader do some mental calisthenics to tie all the threads together, he gets the balance just right most of the timeSO WHAT'S THIS BOOK ABOUT?: It takes as its starting point, the shooting of Bob Marley and members of his entourage in December 1976, presumed to be by members of the CIA backed JLP (Jamaica Labour Party) in response to the upcoming Smile Jamaica Peace Concert to be held a couple of days later, which had initially been intended to be politically neutral but was widely seen as an initiative of the left leaning, Cuban backed PNP (People's National Party) . The book is based around the shooting, the perpetrators of the shooting, a witness to it, and an American journalist who wants to write about it, and then follows the main characters into the 1990s in the Jamaican controlled drug trade in New York. Whilst the characters are fictional, a couple are pretty easily identifiable with real people who are now dead and its possible that Marlon James is making accusations about the perpetrators of the Marley shootingWHAT WOULD IT HELP ME TO KNOW BEFORE READING? A little of the history of political violence in Jamaica in the 1970s, the role of Bob Marley as a neutral figure of influence above politics, and the Jamaican take over of the New York drug trade. Also, the text is littered with references to Marley's lyrics and also the lyrics from other reggae hits of the timeIS THE JAMAICAN PATOIS HARD TO UNDERSTAND? No - you've just got to read the book with the rhythm of the accent in your head, and you will soon get into the swingWHY IS BOB MARLEY REFERRED TO AS "THE SINGER"? Presumably to avoid trouble from the litigous Marley family. Not every reference to him here would necessarily be considered positive, from his eye for the ladies, to alleged presence at kangaroo courts. IS ANYONE ELSE REAL? Marlon James has been at pains to point out that the characters are composites, but several characters, such as "Papa-Lo" and "Josey Wales" are clearly identifiable with real people. As for the communities of Kingston that are referred to, "Copenhagen City" is clearly a composite of Tivoli Gardens, still a JLP stronghold todayWHY IS IT CALLED "A BRIEF HISTORY OF SEVEN KILLINGS" WHEN THERE ARE MORE THAN SEVEN, AND ITS NOT BRIEF?: This is the title of article that the journalist Alex Pierce, is writing for The New Yorker.IS IT PERFECT? No but I am giving it 5 stars anyway. A couple of the threads don't' work very well. The involvement of the CIA and Cuban interests don't make sense unless you are aware of the political affiliations of the JLP and PNP which most readers won't be. The circumstances of the death of the a most feared hitman seems unlikely. One character seems to be able to change identities at a bewildering speed which again seems unlikely . Most importantly, naming one of the most important characters Josey Wales, when there is a historical DJ called Josey Wales, active at the same time, and its not him was a bit weird. And the US based scenes in the second half of the book don't carry the same punch as the Jamaican scenes, for me anywayANY OTHER QUIRKS? A couple. Firstly in the cast of characters at the beginning of the book, there are a couple of characters listed who don't actually appear. Really. I assume this was a reference to the notoriously inaccurate Jamaican record covers of the 1970s. And there are musical references which are out of time. For example the hitman Bam-Bam wants to "rip the S off Superman's chest, pull the B from Batman belly" which is a reference to a lyric in a Barrington Levy song, but one from several years after the unfortunate Bam-Bam's demiseSHOULD I READ IT? Yes - its genius. Read it now and give a copy to your friends
  • (5/5)
    I have to say that the last few years the Man Booker prize committee has chosen some great books to win the prize. Last year the book that won was The Narrow Road to the Deep North, a harrowing tale about prisoners of war in Burma. The year before that The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton won, a doorstop of a book about the New Zealand gold rush that showed the best and worst of mankind. Then this year the winner is this book which covers 15 years in Jamaica's ghettos. None of them were easy reads but they certainly show the best of contemporary fiction.This book is told by a number of different people including several members of ghetto gangs, a CIA operative, a writer for Rolling Stone magazine and a young Jamaican woman who had a one-night fling with Bob Marley. In December 1976 Marley was scheduled to give a concert in Kingston Jamaica which was called a Peace Concert but it was widely believed to be an attempt by Prime Minister Manley to sway the electorate to vote his PNP party back in to government. Members of a ghetto gang from the part of Jamaica loyal to the JLP tried to assassinate Marley in his home. This book is about that attempt and what happened to the various perpetrators. Marlon James grew up in Jamaica and he has a unique writing style that places the reader right in Kingston. Much of what he writes about is violent, filthy and poverty-stricken and yet, you don't want to turn away, you just want to go deeper. I was in Jamaica in 1970 and I remember the undercurrent of violence that was always present. I also remember the music and the Rastafarians and the white sand beaches and the great food and I would go back in a flash. Even after reading this book I would be eager to experience the island again.
  • (3/5)
    I just could not get into this book. I tried and failed. (Do you know how long it takes to read a 688-page book that you cannot get into? It takes a very long time.)

    I know a lot of people really love this book. It just wasn't for me.
  • (4/5)
    Finally. First, this book is a brilliant piece of writing with numerous narrators switching up every chapter. The story of Jamaica in the 70's and 80's and the social and political upheaval that occurred was essentially new to me although I knew about the shooting of Marley. Living in the Midwest can be somewhat insular. But the way he handles the multiple characters and points of view is fairly magical and impressive. However, I will say that this for the most part was not a real enjoyable read. I started this in March and put it down around page 500 in April because it was really beating me up and became a real slog. My main complaint is this: I am not familiar with patois dialect and it really required me to read, re-read and re-read again several paragraphs and even a whole chapter so that I could get some kind of depth of understanding as to what the author was saying. Many times I put the book down from pure frustration. Whish raises a question that arose from reading this book: If the dialect that is native to an area is used in the writing of a book, how many less people does the author fail to connect with simply because they do not understand the dialect? This is not like those books that sneak in some French or Spanish into a book (e.g. The Plains Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy)because you can always look up the language to determine the meaning. But in this case there is no place to go. Several individuals suggested the audiobook to understand the language, but while I have no problem with audiobooks I think books are made to be read and if the only way they can be understood is for someone else to read them to you then hasn't the author failed the reader to a certain extent? If the author is trying to tell a story/communicate a point and the reader doesn't understand the language used (not the vocabulary) and has no secondary source from which to seek help then hasn't he failed his/her audience? In this book the patois dialect was used for several characters, but for a couple it was so heavy that it often made the chapter impenetrable.Bottom-line I have a deep respect for the book, the author and the story he was trying to tell I just didn't enjoy the overall reading experience. (BTW the violence in this book is vicious in ways that are almost impossible to describe but never feel exploitive)
  • (1/5)
    Every now and again the leading literary critics seem to get together to consider whether they can pull off another emperor's new clothes scam on the reading public. The cover of this book is adorned with numerous plaudits, including one proudly attesting that the book was included on '23 best books of the year' lists. I wonder if they had been reading the same impenetrable text that I found.In a recent review of James Ellroy's 'Perfidia' I remarked that, as I will probably be dead in twenty years' time, I simply don't have time to waste on books that are deliberately impenetrable abstruse. This novel was an even more blatant offender. Still, I won in the end - I simply left it in the underground train when I alighted, feeling suddenly free of a pernicious burden.
  • (5/5)
    Multiple narrators and a bunch of Jamaican slang made this book a very challenging read for me. Fascinating to see this description of Jamaica and the drug trade in the 70s through to the early 90s.
  • (5/5)
    This novel was the book I kept running into last year. First it did well, and received accolades during The Morning News Tournament of Books, then it won the Man Booker Prize. In between those two events, it was the topic of many discussions and the receiver of many glowing reviews. It really didn't interest me, being described as being the complex story of an attempted assassination attempt on the Jamaican Reggae singer, Bob Marley, with the book being narrated by an uncountable number of characters and much of it in impenetrable dialect. It sounded like a book that was more appreciated than loved, and one that was fueled mostly by testosterone. All of those things that made me not want to read A Brief History of Seven Killings are true, except that, after the first few chapters, the dialect was not so impenetrable as I'd feared. There are a lot of characters narrating a chaotic and wide-reaching plot, but they are each different from one another, and the cacophony of voices serves to create a clearer picture, rather than to confuse. It is a story set in a deeply misogynistic time and place, both in Jamaica in the 1970s and New York in the subsequent decades, but James has put as the novel's most well-rounded and empathetic character, a woman as counterpoint. The presence of Nina Burgess in the novel does not completely counter the sheer quantity of rape, abuse and dismissal perpetuated on any woman unfortunate enough to exist in this novel, but it does remind the reader that women existed as people even when the men running things didn't see them as such. The novel follows a number of characters, as they negotiate life in West Kingston, and mostly in the slum called Copenhagen City. Marley, who is simply called the singer, is someone who can bridge the divide between the warring factions of the city, the two political parties whose conflict roams bloodily through the slums. He's a constant presence off-stage, as the various characters revolve around his presence, or absence. He's the never clearly seen center of the novel, giving it a structure and plot, so that what looks from the outside like chaos is really a carefully planned and executed look at Jamaican life during a tumultuous point in its past. For me, this novel worked best when I finally stopped wanting to understand what every word meant and how each character fit into the story. Once I just let myself just read, it fell into place around me. I still don't know what "bombocloth" means. This is a brilliantly written book that deserves the accolades which it has received; it's a book which pulls none of its punches and smooths none of its rough edges for ease of consumption.
  • (3/5)
    I applaud the reviewers who were able to finish this 22 disc audiobook, I unfortunately was not one of them. The Jamaican patois required absolute concentration which left me exhausted. While I usually am the first to advocate audible books (my audible library has over 1200 books), this book is the exception to my rule. After months of attempts, I have given up.For what I did finish, the writing was remarkable. Unlike some others, I did not find the violence gratuitous, just historically accurate. I look forward to attacking this in print.
  • (5/5)
    I finished this audiobook a few hours ago but I've needed a little time to digest what has been an incredibly rich, spicy and downright delicious meal. (more later)Thank you to LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program for the audiobook copy of this title!