Marlon James

A Brief History Of Seven Killings

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A Brief History Of Seven Killings Summary

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A Brief History of Seven Killings (2015) by Marlon James was the first novel by a Jamaican writer to win the Man Booker Prize – a highly prestigious award. A sprawling, epic, fictionalized account of the lead-up to and the ramifications of the attempted assassination of the singer Bob Marley in 1976, the novel features more than seventy-five characters and splits the narration between many voices. James interweaves imagined events with real historical events to tell a wide-ranging story of post-colonial Jamaica from the 1960s to the 1980s. The novel chronicles the breakdown of Jamaica’s politics into gang violence, the connections between these gangs and the Colombian Medellín drug cartel, the spread of crack to New York City and Miami, and the influence of the CIA and anti-Castro Cubans on Jamaica. The novel has received universal acclaim because of the richness and multiplicity of its voices and its extraordinary scope.

A Brief History of Seven Killings is divided into five sections – each spanning a day. The first section takes place on December 2, 1976. In it, we meet some of the key players in Kingston and learn about their motivations. Everything revolves around the internationally famous Singer—as Bob Marley is identified throughout the novel—who plans to stage a concert to promote peace in two days. Although he has been seen as neutral, there are rumors that the Singer supports the People’s National Party (PNP), the party now in power.

We encounter a gang allied with the out-of-power Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) through the eyes of Bam-Bam, a boy who numbs himself against the violence he sees and enacts through heavy cocaine use; Josey Wales, a brutal gangster whose status is on the rise; and Papa-Lo, the gang’s leader who is growing older and mellowing. Josey plans to assassinate the Singer, while Papa-Lo uses gang violence to ensure people vote for the JLP in the upcoming election.

We also meet Barry Diflorio, a CIA agent assigned to Jamaica, and Alex Piece, a Rolling Stone reporter who has seen the Singer with both Papa-Lo and with Shotta Sherrif, a PNP-allied gangster and believes he is onto a big scoop. Finally, there is Nina Burgess, the Singer’s former lover, who wants the Singer’s help to leave Jamaica after her family is attacked, but is captured by police.

The second section is set the next day, December 3, 1976, as the key players converge at the Singer’s house. The gang is fracturing. Although Papa-Lo and Josey had carved a base of power for the JLP after the PNP victory, he has grown apart from Josey. Josey now works with Doctor Love, a CIA-taught explosives fixer who works for the Medellín cartel. Barry is alarmed that Doctor Love is in town, but his attempts to spy on him are disrupted by another CIA operative.

Alex is fired by Rolling Stone and joins up with Mark Lansing, the son of the director of the CIA, who is making a documentary about the Singer. They go to the Singer’s house, but Alex feels unprepared to do an interview and leaves just before the attack takes place.

Bam-Bam and the other gangsters do a lot of cocaine and attack the Singer’s house. It is chaotic and horrible. Afterward, Josey turns on some of them, getting Papa-Lo arrested and Bam-Bam buried alive. Newspapers reveal that the Singer is still alive.

Although Nina resigns herself to being raped by the police, they let her go unharmed – but her family attacks her for sleeping with the Singer. Nina walks back to the Singer’s house, this time determined to get his help in getting a visa to leave Jamaica. She arrives just as the attack is ending.

Section 3 begins on February 15, 1979, and describes the dramatic aftermath of the attack. Nina, now called Kim Clarke, is in an unfulfilling relationship with a white man named Chuck. When he refuses to take her to America, she remembers being Nina and life on the run and sets fire to the house. Barry is being reassigned to Argentina and thinks about the different hot spots of the cold war. Papa-Lo goes after the men responsible for the attack on the Singer and learns that they were supported by the Colombia cartel and the CIA. The Singer refuses to participate in Papa-Lo’s brand of justice. As Papa-Lo drives away, the police shoot and kill him.

Drug-addled, Alex faces a stranger in his Brooklyn hotel room. He remembers the peace treaty the gang leaders signed eight months ago. Papa-Lo admitted the treaty wouldn’t last, and Josey threatened Alex for asking too many questions. Back in the present, Alex and the stranger scuffle and Alex kills him.

Josey warns a JPL politician that the Singer wants to start a new Rastafarian political party that will render the PNP and JPL meaningless. He realizes that Papa-Lo has gone soft and is set on peace, and decides to take the gang operations to New York City.

The fourth section jumps forward to August 14, 1985. The Singer has died of foot cancer and the JLP won the last election. Nina, now Dorcas Palmer, works as an elder aide in New York. Her new client, Ken, is refreshingly vulgar, carefree, and fun. When Dorcas confesses to him that she stole another woman’s identity, Ken suddenly has an episode of amnesia—a condition that makes him the perfect man for Dorcas since he will never remember her real identity.

Josey comes to New York to check on his drug operation there. His former second in command, Weeper, has been too distracted by the sudden freedom to have a sexual relationship with a man to oversee things well. Another drug lord, Eubie, tells Josey that Weeper’s dealers have started using their own drugs, which spells trouble. When Josey lands, he thinks the American ghetto is just like the one in Kingston and shoots many people in the crack house he’s scouting.

From a man serving time in Rikers Island Prison, Alex learns that the men who made the gang peace, including Papa-Lo, have all been killed. The prisoner is worried that Josey will come after him for what he knows. It’s clear that Alex is also a target, and Alex starts reconsidering writing his book on the Singer and the attack.

Griselda Blanco, the head of the Colombian cartel, has hired John-John to kill Weeper. The two men discuss their shared homosexuality, Weeper realizes that Eubie is the one who requested the hit; John-John kills Weeper with an overdose.

The final section of the book jumps to March 22, 1991.

Nina, now Millicent Segree, is training to be a nurse in the Bronx. She tries her best to hide her Jamaican accent and identity but is fascinated by a Jamaican gunshot victim in the ICU. From the man’s wife, she learns that Josey is in jail. The mention of Josey’s name triggers a flood of Nina’s memories about the attack on the Singer.

Alex has just published a four-part story, titled “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” about Jamaica and the Singer in the New Yorker. At home, he is confronted by Eubie and several other gang members for his murder of the stranger in the hotel room years before. The men beat and torture Alex, demanding that he redact the last part of the article. Alex tells Eubie that Josey shot the Singer, and Eubie shoots Alex in the foot as a warning and reminder.

Josey is in prison, and his son Benji is running things until he is shot. When doctors fail to save him, mob violence erupts around the hospital. Doctor Love visits Josey in prison, but when Josey brags about having everyone in Kingston in his pocket, Doctor Love reveals that Eubie is the one who ordered Weeper dead. Josey attacks Doctor Love, who threatens Josey’s other son and gives Josey some pills to swallow. Josey takes them and passes out.

Millicent reads in the newspaper that Josey was burned to death in his jail cell, throws up, and in a daze calls her sister.