This novel starts on Dec. 2, 1976 in Jamaica. This is just before the Jamaican general elections and mere days before gunmen would storm into Bob Marley’s home and attack him and his family with machine guns before he went on to perform at the Smile Jamaica Concert that the gunmen were essentially trying to stop.
The gunmen were never identified, but there have been rumors for years. Marlon James takes these rumors and crafts a beautiful novel out of the days leading up to the Smile Jamaica Concert; the violence between rival gangs associated with both the Jamaica Labour Party and the People’s National Party; and the involvement of the American government in Jamaican politics during the time.
It’s difficult for me to explain this book to you. Not because I didn’t enjoy the book and not because I didn’t understand the book (mostly). It’s difficult to explain because there are more than 75 characters; I counted.
The novel has many, many different voices and each and every voice is unique and brings a different point of view into the novel. It’s really incredible how James was able to craft such different characters.
James wove in some real life characters through the narrative, such as: Bob Marley, who James refers to only as “the Singer” and Kingston gangster Winston Blake and many other gang members who were actually real people. While it’s probably safe to say these are complete fictionalizations of these people, it’s still pretty cool how James breathes life into them.
This novel also covers a 30-year span with the characters as they traipse down the streets of Kingston, hang out in the seediest places of New York and how they wind up back in Kingston. Covering so much time with so many interchanging characters makes this book difficult as well.
However, I really enjoyed this book. It ties in themes of justice, retribution, evil, fate and it throws in a dash of mystery and, at times, a heaping helping of violence.
This book is powerful. If you’re looking for something to really move you, “A Brief History of Seven Killings” by Marlon James is the way to go.