Monday, October 12, 2015

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

I was wrong about A Brief History of Seven Killings. I did not want to read it because review descriptions made me think it wasn't my kind of book. Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times called it: "raw, dense, violent, scalding, darkly comic, exhilarating and exhausting." Aside from "darkly comic" and "exhilarating," the rest of that string scared me away. "Dense, violent and exhausting" sounds like something to avoid. And it's a doorstop on top of that, 688 pages, which means investing a significant amount of time.

People that I trust were raving about how good this is, so I decided to give it a try in audio. Excellent decision! I love this book so much that now I am the one raving about it.

The story spans decades of history in Jamaica, centered around the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976. Pieces link together in surprising ways. The characterization is outstanding. Most of them are men, but there are a few women, including Nina Burgess:

A Brief History of Seven Killings
had me revisiting all things Bob
Marley, including this picture
book biography by Tony Medina
and Jesse Joshua Watson.
"Kimmy learning from Ras Trent to take the words English people gave her as a tool of oppression and spit them back in their face. Rastaman don't deal with negativity so oppression is now downpression even though there is no up in the word. Dedicate is livicate, I and I, well God knows what that means, but it sounds like somebody is trying for their own holy trinity but forgetting the name of the third person. A lot of shit if you ask me."

The audiobook [Highbridge: 26 hours] is read by an ensemble cast (Robertson Dean, Cherise Booth and Dwight Bacquie), so not only are the multiple voices distinctive, the Jamaican patois rolled easily into my ears. I enjoy the way dialect gets me into a setting and it's even better when I can hear it in audio format. Sensitive listeners are forewarned that the dialogue has a lot of profanity, which in Jamaica relies heavily on words that have to do with the vagina and menstruation. But I hope this warning will not scare you away from a fantastic reading experience.

A Brief History of Seven Killings is shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, along with another title I adored, A Little Life. It's a close call, but I think I like A Brief History of Seven Killings best. The winner will be announced tomorrow and I would be pleased if either of them wins.

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