DO NOT MISS: Marlon James’ award-winning “A Brief History of Seven Killings” (New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2014), 688 pages.
It took me five hours and 130 pages to get into this demanding work of historical fiction, but it is both rewarding and insightful. James explores political and cultural events in Jamaica from Dec. 2, 1976 through March 22, 1991 (plus background from the successful 1959 Cuban revolution and the failed ‘Bay of Pigs’ invasion, the US effort to topple Castro, US and USSR covert tampering with elected governments in Chile, Nicaragua, Argentina, and more in the ’60s), set in Cold War Latin America, complete with the CIA, Cuban agents, rival Jamaican gangs, political upheaval, the People’s National Party led by socialist Michael Manley, the rival Jamaican Labor Party struggle, the rise –and perceived threat– of Bob Marley as more than an entertainer, Marley’s two “peace concerts” aiming at Jamaican unity (including the attempts to murder Marley prior to the first concert), and the sweeping wreckage among ordinary people caught in the crossfire of international economic and political forces.
James presents these events through the words and actions of his 75+ characters, each telling their own story, be it in official British English, the Patois of ordinary Jamaicans, various dialects of ghetto slang, US government jargon, or US pop media gloss. And he moves between these polyphonic linguistic expressions seamlessly, making readers insiders to the sounds, smells, fears, and hopes of those in the struggle.
This is the most compelling read I have had in years. I rank “A Brief History of Seven Killings” alongside W. E. B. DuBois’ “The Souls of Black Folk,” Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” and Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.” Reading “A Brief History of Seven Killings” is a complex and difficult undertaking, but, then, as Spinoza put it, “all beautiful things are as difficult as they are rare.”