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A Brief History of Seven Killings: A Novel Hardcover – October 2, 2014

3.7 out of 5 stars 405 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, October 2014: This is a book that I did not expect to enjoy. Having finished it—and feeling, as I do now, that A Brief History of Seven Killings is one of the best books I’ve read all year—I went back and identified the reasons why I did not expect to like it. Reason #1— The story is an oral history told in multiple voices: that’s true, but James’ enormous talent makes the multiple voices work. Reading the novel is an immersive experience—the characters are real, they are engaging, and James uses them to look at all sides of the story. Yes, the multiple points-of-view are difficult at first, but each voice quickly distinguishes itself as unique and important; the payoff is a novel of sweeping scope and emotion. Reason #2—Many of the characters speak in Jamaican patois: like many readers, I’m not a big fan of dialect on the page. Tell me what they say, not necessarily how they say it. But James pulls it off with remarkable ease. I expected the patois to start to grate once I got further into the book. It never did. The language only added to my understanding of the story and its characters. Reason #3—Violence: this is not an easy book, particularly when it comes to violence. It starts early, and there’s a lot of it (certainly more than seven killings). But it’s there for a reason. By showing the violence, the poverty, and the struggle to survive in 70s Jamaica, James illustrates how the ghetto can change a person. Over time, we see how every man and woman is changed. Reason #4 –It’s about Jamaica: I hesitate to admit that I wasn’t initially interested in a book set in Jamaica. Am I just not interested in a world so different from mine? Whatever the underlying reason, I was wrong to think that way. I could take the easy route and say that this novel is about something more than Jamaica, but that seems obvious. All I can say is: these people were real to me. And like all great novels, James’ work drew me in, entertained me, and changed me in ways I could not have anticipated. –Chris Schluep


“It will come to be seen as a classic of our times…that’s what judges of the prestigious Man Booker Prize have said about this year’s winner.”
“An astonishing portrait of the politics of everyday life…Just as he is sharply aware of the nuances of their voices, James has the confidence not to deny his characters their humanity by turning them into moral exemplars, nor paper over the infected wounds that score across the country by suggesting that the loveliness of some of its territory makes up for the savage effects of poverty.”
The Washington Post
“A dark, challenging, and violent book that's also remarkably funny, A Brief History of Seven Killings appears to have been an easy choice for the judges, who voted unanimously to award it the [Booker] prize in a deliberation which lasted less than two hours.
The New Republic
“How to describe Marlon James’s monumental new novel A Brief History of Seven Killings? It’s like a Tarantino remake of The Harder They Come but with a soundtrack by Bob Marley and a script by Oliver Stone and William Faulkner, with maybe a little creative boost from some primo ganja. It’s epic in every sense of that word: sweeping, mythic, over-the-top, colossal and dizzyingly complex. It’s also raw, dense, violent, scalding, darkly comic, exhilarating and exhausting—a testament to Mr. James’s vaulting ambition and prodigious talent.”
The New York Times
“This is the boldest of novels, and the boldest of Booker-winning novels, thanks to a jury bold enough to pick it.”
The Independent
“[A] tour de force… [an] audacious, demanding, inventive literary work.”
Wall Street Journal
“An extraordinary book… [It was] very exciting, very violent, full of swearing. It was a book we didn’t actually have any difficulty deciding on – it was a unanimous decision, a little bit to our surprise. … The call was easy but the distance was small…There are many, many voices in the book and it just kept on coming, it kept on doing what it was doing. … There is an excitement right from the beginning of this book. A lot of it is very, very funny, a lot of it very human.”
Michael Wood, Chair of the Judges for the 2015 Man Booker Prize

“Thrilling, ambitious…Both intense and epic.”
Los Angeles Times

“Nothing short of awe-inspiring.”
Entertainment Weekly

“A prismatic story of gang violence and Cold War politics in a turbulent post-independence Jamaica.”
The New Yorker
“Marlon James' latest novel is a Jamaican symphony, a sea of distinct and unforgettable voices.”
St. Paul Pioneer Press

“Exploding with violence and seething with arousal, the third novel by Marlon James cuts a swath across recent Jamaican history…This compelling, not-so-brief history brings off a social portrait worthy of Diego Rivera, antic and engagé, a fascinating tangle of the naked and the dead.”
The Washington Post

“[Marlon James] is a virtuoso …[the novel is] an epic of postcolonial fallout, in Jamaica and elsewhere, and America’s participation in that history. …the book is not only persuasive but tragic, though in its polyphony and scope it’s more than that….It makes its own kind of music, not like Marley’s, but like the tumult he couldn’t stop.”
New York Times Book Review
“An ambitious and loquacious exploration of the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in December 1976. It also tells the story of 1970s Jamaica through a polyphonous chain of ‘voices’ (ghosts, Rastas and gangstas), juxtaposing reggae with street violence. James takes risks that none of his rivals dare... [an] intoxicatingly prolix narrative.”
The Guardian

“Brilliantly executed… The novel makes no compromises, but is cruelly and consummately a work of art.”
The Minneapolis Star Tribune

“An excellent new work of historical fiction … part crime thriller, part oral history, part stream-of-consciousness monologue.”
Rolling Stone 

“An impressive feat of storytelling: raw, uncompromising, panoramic yet meticulously detailed. The Jamaica portrayed here is one many people have heard songs about but have never seen rendered in such arresting specificity—and if they have, only briefly.”
Chicago Tribune
Marlon James’s epic docu-novel about Jamaica in the throes of political upheaval is a thrilling…exegesis on the idea of island history itself James has written a dangerous book, one full of lore and whispers and history… [a] great book... James nibbles at theories of who did what and why, and scripts Marley’s quest for revenge with the pace of a thriller. His achievement, however, goes far beyond opening up this terrible moment in the life of a great musician. He gives us the streets, the people, especially the desperate, the Jamaicans whom Marley exhorted to: ‘Open your eyes and look within:/ Are you satisfied with the life your living?”
The Boston Globe

“I highly recommend you pick [A Brief History of Seven Killings] up. As a book of many narrators, this novel reminds me of Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives.”
—NPR, All Things Considered 

“A strange and wonderful novel…Mr. James’s chronicle of late 20th-century Jamaican politics and gang wars manages consistently to shock and mesmerise at the same time.”
The Economist

“A sweeping novel that touches on family, friendship, celebrity, art, sexuality, ghetto politics, geopolitics, drug trade, gender, race and more, sending the reader from Jamaica to New York via Miami and Cuba and back.”

“Rendered with virtuosic precision and deep empathy.”
“The book is exasperating and confusing, raw and violent, and overrun with wicked, empty people. It's also breathtaking, daring, and once you finally start sorting things out as the book ends, a bit intoxicating…Few writers take such gambles. Fewer still can pull them off.”
—Chicago Tribune
“Tumultuous and overwhelming, A Brief History of Seven Killings would have been hard to overlook in any case…A testament not only to James’s prodigiously versatile writing but also to his awareness that an undaunted, self-made character is crucial to helping his reader navigate A Brief History of Seven Killings’s dark heart.
The Atlantic
“A big powerhouse of a book, confident and fast-paced, as page-turning as any supermarket-aisle thriller. It's time to read it.”
“This ambitious novel requires an ambitious reader… The sheer number of characters, the Caribbean slang, and the gonzo view of violence and corruption are dizzying but nothing short of awe-inspiring.”
Entertainment Weekly

“The way James uses language is amazing….Vigorous, intricate and captivating, A Brief History of Seven Killings is hard to put down.”
“Thrilling, ambitious…Both intense and epic.”
Los Angeles Times
“Marlon James’s epic and dizzying third novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings… announces Marlon James as a writer in the same league as Salman Rushdie, Reinaldo Arenas, and others who’ve risked their skin to get at the truth.”
“This ambitious novel, which spans decades but centers on Kingston, Jamaica, in the nineteen-seventies, is a complex portrait of a society ruled by violence. … Gang leaders and their underlings, journalists and spooks, ordinary Jamaicans struggling to stay alive form a kind of chorus flooding the novel with a rich abundance of detail.”
The New Yorker

“James’s masterful novel radiates; [it’s] a character-driven tale that takes place in a maelstrom of guns, drugs and politics.”

“Technically astounding… a wildly ambitious and brilliant book...this stunning counterfactual fiction evokes both the pungency of Faulkner’s Southern gothic Yoknapatawpha novels and the wild tabloid noir of James Ellroy’s ‘White Jazz’…[Marlon] James raises fiction’s ante throughout this bravura novel.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Like a capacious 19th-century novel crossed with a paranoid Don DeLillo conspiracy-theory thriller…the book rewards time spent, bringing a complex perspective on violence, corruption, and the untidiness of humanity to vivid life and astonishing detail. It makes you want to rush out and read everything else James has written.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“A gripping tale in which music, drugs, sex, and violence collide with explosive results.”
“An exuberant, Balzacian novel by self-described ‘post-post colonialist’ writer who is at ease with several canons, traditions, and dialects. You’ll also find a political novel on the level of Don DeLillo. It’s the rare ‘revelation’ that will easily outlive its hype-cycle.”
— Flavorwire
“A dazzling fictional representation of Jamaica.”

"A Brief History of Seven Killings is an amazing novel of power, corruption and lies. I can't think of a better one I've read this century."
– Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting

"There's a crowd of brilliant young Americo-Caribbean writers coming to the table these days, and Marlon James is not just among the best of them, he's among the best of all the young writers, period. He knows whereof he speaks, and he speaks with power and clarity. This novel cracks open a world that needs to be known. It has epic reach and achieves it. It's scary and lyrically beautiful - you'll want to read whole pages aloud to strangers."
—Russell Banks

A Brief History of Seven Killings is a masterpiece. Hinged around the 1976 assassination attempt on Bob Marley in Kingston, this massive poetic novel is a gripping, riveting read. Intuitively original, deeply erudite and intelligent, told from multiple points of view, it unravels the lethal world of mid-1970s Jamaican politics and its decades-long consequences in the deadly yardie world of crack-dealing. Magnificent.”
—Chris Salewicz, author of Bob Marley: The Untold Story

“Upon finishing, the reader will have completed an indispensable and essential history of Jamaica’s troubled years. This novel should be required reading.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Stunning… A brilliant novel, highly recommended; one of those big, rich, magisterial works that lets us into a world we really don’t know.”
Library Journal (starred review)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; 1 edition (October 2, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159448600X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594486005
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (405 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,239 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Falkor VINE VOICE on August 20, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
A BRIEF HISTORY OF SEVEN KILLINGS is bound to be a bestseller as it has an intriguing premise inspired by fact, an interesting setting and many critical endorsements even before the book is actually released. However prospective readers should also know this is a long complicated book that has a diverse cast of characters telling the story. Thankfully there is a list of seventy-six characters mentioned by these narrators sorted by the location and time period where they appear helpfully supplied at the beginning of the book. This list even includes a brief statement of these players' roles in the novel. I admit to turning to these four pages frequently in the course of reading the novel. Some of the narration uses a great deal of slang that is occasionally difficult to figure out even using context clues. I found myself often using internet resources to decipher some of this language as well as to get more background information about Jamaica in the 1970's, 80's and early 90's. This is certainly an ambitious book and it is well rendered. However the casual reader may want to realize the investment in time and effort needed to appreciate it.
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Format: Hardcover
This was probably the most challenging novel I've read in several years. Who am I kidding? There's no probably about it. Marlon James has constructed an incredibly complex story, and it took every bit of memory available to me to keep up. He was kind enough to include a cast of characters, but I made it a point to refer to it as little as possible, opting instead to try and follow the story under my own power.

Add to the story's complexity the fact that most of the characters are from the ghettos of Kingston, and speak in a patois that takes some serious acclimation initially, and will slow your reading speed to a crawl at times. Amazingly though, after spending nearly a week with these characters, I felt like I had picked up the meanings quite well and could read those sections much quicker. Strangely, for me, this adaptation was the most rewarding aspect of this particular reading experience. In fact, as much respect as I now have for Marlon James' talent, I have to admit that I did not actually enjoy this novel, and found it made for an almost constantly uncomfortable reading experience.

The last time I felt the inability to enjoy such a well written book, I was reading In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, a Pulitzer finalist. Both books require the reader to spend most of their time in very difficult places. By difficult I mean places where innocents suffer a great deal of agony and injustice, and both books left me feeling a certain hopelessness from which I felt the reader was never released. That may well be James' intention, and the fact that he could take me to such places and make them feel so real as to make me uncomfortable is a testament to his talents.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
To say this book is impressive is an understatement. But before I go further, let me state that it was a difficult one to complete. I struggled through the dialog, constantly checked the very long list of characters, and wished for another listing to decipher the slang. Sometimes it took me a minute or two to realize what the character's point was and I began that section again. In spite of the difficulties to get through this hard and complex novel, it is ambitious as well. It covers three decades of the unstable history of Jamaica with its stark poverty, the attempted assassination of Bob Marley, and horrific violence told through many voices and dialects. I feel in the future this author will be reading sections to a captivated audience. I hope that he does because I plan to be there, if I can. Unflinching in scope, this young writer is one to watch.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Jamaica is a mother who eats her children.

If there’s a message to this rich, complicated, wholly satisfying novel, that’s it. Everyone preys on the poor in Kingston, Jamaica, and the only way out is to prey on others. That’s what almost all the characters in this vast, sprawling saga do –they savage their neighbors for their own gain and then they too fall before other more savage, or merely younger, predators. Life is short, harsh, and violent in Kingston. No one leaves the game unmarked. “In the ghetto there is no such thing as peace. There is only this fact. Your power to kill me can only be stop by my power to kill you . . .. Who want peace anyway when all that mean is that you still poor?”

Crime and politics are pretty much the same game in Kingston. The novel starts before the 1976 election campaign. The island’s biggest celebrity, Bob Marley, or “the Singer” as he’s referred to throughout the novel, has returned to headline a big Peace Concert. Everyone’s there. Mick Jagger and the Stones –Mick out hunting for black poon. A freelancer for Rolling Stone. (He’s one of the narrators.) Everyone. Some of them want the Singer dead. They almost succeed. (This is historically accurate. There was an almost successful attempt to assassinate Marley before the concert in 1976.) Afterward, there’s a bloodbath scourging of the ranks of the conspirators so that the little fish can’t spill the beans on the bigger ones. The description of what happens is savage, visceral, jolting. There’s no room for gratitude or kindness in a world this poor, especially when the stakes are high.

Time moves on. It’s 1978, 1979, the 80s and 1991.
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