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Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Brief History of Seven Killings (2014) by Marlon James

The attempted assassination of Bob Marley by CIA bankrolled gangsters is the central plot point in A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James.

Book Review
A Brief History of Seven Killings (2014)
 by Marlon James


  Bringing A Brief History of Seven Killings on vacation with me in Jamaica was like wearing a band t-shirt to the same band's concert.   Recent winner of the Man Booker prize,  A Brief History of Seven Killings is a blood-soaked retelling of an alleged CIA sponsored plot to assassinate Bob Marley and the subsequent move of Jamaican organized crime syndicates into the crack trade in New York City. The attempted murder of Bob Marley is a matter of historical record, and the alleged CIA involvement is an old story- after finishing the book I googled the subject and found the exact plot of the book laid out in a news story from 2010.

  The story is told through a multiplicity of different voices. The afterward by the author cites William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying as a direct inspiration, but given the rock and roll milieu it reminded me more of a Spin magazine oral history.   The lack of a central narrator or introduction to the back story of Jamaican politics makes the first hundred pages or so difficult to understand.  Basically, Jamaica has two political parties, the People's National Party and the Jamaican Labor Party.  The People's National Party was the part of independence, and at the time of the book (1979) they were firmly socialist and heading farther to the left.  The Jamaican Labor Party was the conservative opposition and supported on the down low by the United States government.

  Both parties used Kingston street gangs to control the vote in elections, and the 1980 election was the bloodiest of all time, with over 700 people losing their lives during the campaign.  None of this information is given directly in the narrative.  Instead you have the voices of the gang leaders, the American operatives and ordinary Jamaicans with various levels of involvement in the shenanigans.   Eventually these shenanigans lead to the attempted assassination of Bob Marley (only called "the singer" in the book) by gang members affiliated with the Jamaican Labor Party and bankrolled by United States operatives, most notably a Colombian explosives expert called "Dr. Love."

  Love is also the bridge between the Jamaican Posse-gangs and the Cali Cartel, and after the failed assassination attempt, the Jamaican Shower Posse (called the "Storm Posse" ) in the book moves into the crack trade in New York City.   James does a remarkable job giving full life into the type of characters that typically only exist as crude stereotypes in American art and popular culture- his portrayal of gay/bisexual Posse members is particularly memorable.

  After finishing the book I quickly checked to see who had bought the tv/film rights and was excited to learn that HBO has purchased the rights, and that the author himself was working on the adaptation. Can't wait for that tv show!

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