Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Logo of The Middlebury Campus
Monday, Apr 22, 2024

The Librarian is in: ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings’ by Marlon James

This work is the most enrapturing audiobook vocal performance I’ve ever encountered. “A Brief History of Seven Killings” came on my radar after I interviewed Dr. Kemi Fuentes-George, professor of political science, for the “In Your Own Words” oral histories project. He suggested it after I asked him what works he might recommend to those wanting to learn more about diasporic Blackness. Taking real life events and creating others, it is a fictionalized and revisionist retelling of the zeitgeist surrounding an attempt made on Bob Marley’s life in 1976. But, it’s really much more than that.

The most engrossing parts of the book are the glimpses readers get into the social stratification of 1970s Jamaica and the suggestion that non-governmental entities ran the country. Moreover, while Jamaica is but one Caribbean island, the people and culture it has produced have strong impacts all over the world. We see this, for example, in the plentiful nurses and domestic care workers “exported” from Jamaica to New York. From commentary on the 1960s Bay of Pigs Invasion to references to the popular television series “Starsky & Hutch,” Marlon James revives the ’70s from its crypt, highlighting the international reach of US-based media and the rise of Jamaican reggae. Unforgiving drug lords, unpredictable addicts and regular bouts of gun violence run throughout the pages (or soundbytes, if you’re listening) of this work. However, it was the extent of the homophobia, omnipresent throughout the work, that I found the most relentless of all — James makes a diligent effort to shed light on the virulent attitudes towards homosexuality that remain alive in Jamaica today. 

While certain cultural products and chronologies are true, others are figments of the author’s imagination. As is repeated multiple times throughout the work, some Jamaicans say that, “If it not go so, it go near so” — some recounting of history is tremulous and uneven, but its shakiness isn’t an invalidation of its veracity or near accuracy. For more works that treat similar themes, I recommend Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds,” which also takes an actual historical time period, its politics and accoutrements, and remixes its narratology. Television series like “Hawaii Five-0” and “Three’s Company” also gesture towards capturing this era.

Editor’s Note: Katrina Spencer was the Literatures & Cultures Librarian, and this book review was written for The Campus before she left the college.