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Book Review: A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James

Book Cover from A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James


Educational, enjoyable and sometimes very shocking violence. Hard work towards the end (~700 pages) and a lot of Jamaican slang.


The story takes place over many years, and a few locations, with a host of narrators. Each chapter is narrated by a different character, I lost count or how many narrators in the end, which can make for jarring changes in style as you progress from one chapter to another.

“The Singer” (Bob Marley) is central to the thread of the story, never a narrator himself he only fleetingly participates in the book. The horrendous out-of-control lives lived by some citizens of Jamaica in this period has shocked me.

I did feel the need to jump out of the book occasionally to find out some things about Bob Marley to help provide context to things going on. That he died of a cancer that started in his big toe is not easy to understand in the book itself, but things made more sense with this knowledge. That he left Jamaica to live a self-imposed exile, also helped at certain points.

Via this story I have learnt more about the geo-political games that played out in the Caribbean and Central America in the 60s & 70s and their long-lasting impact on Jamaica and wider. Via this and the series of books about Mexican drug cartels I have read this year, my eyes have been opened more to the long-term damage cause by the short-sightedness of US anti-drugs and anti-communist policies in the 2nd half of the 20th Century.

I would recommend the book to anyone who is interested in reading a good story with a set of good characters. Reading the chapters that are narrated by characters who communicate in Creole with a lot of Jamaican slang can be hard work, well worth it in the end.

The final words will leave any reader moved and changed forever, I am sure.