A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James, author: narrators: Robertson Dean, Cherise Boothe, Dwight Bacquie, Ryan Anderson, Johnathan McClain, Robert Younis, Thom Rivera.
First, let me say that I gave the book three stars, although I did not finish it, could not finish it, because I could not get past the parts that I found too disturbing. There are readers, however, that this novel will very much appeal to, who will enjoy it completely for its authenticity and realism, and I do recommend it for them. For me, though, after listening to about two hours of a 25 hour audio of the book, parts of which I replayed several times to try and understand it more fully, although I rarely do not finish a book, I simply gave up on this one. Yes, the sentences were beautifully expressive and filled with imagery, and the book has won many esteemed awards, the Man Booker Prize among them. Yes, the narrators were very good in their realistic presentations of the characters with accent and personality that was completely appropriate. However, with all that said, the book was simply not for the timid of mind and heart, like me, because of its narrative.
The book covers a period of time from 1976 to 1991 and its subject matter will most likely appeal to those interested in the past history and evolution of Jamaica along with Bob Marley’s career. A troubled island, Jamaica is described as rife with corrupt governments, poverty, rival gangs and crime, especially in certain areas of the country, like the ghetto which was ruled by lawlessness. However, the language in the book is nothing short of foul, the sex is grossly overt, the violent scenes are wildly graphic and curse words spout from the mouths of most of the characters regularly. The slang words and foreign language phrases were unintelligible at times, although the language of the book was English. I simply could not interpret many of the words spoken in the Jamaican dialect or in their foreign language.
From my brief encounter, I found the text crude, peppered as it was with curses and brutality, and the behavior of most of the characters was immediately heartless and selfish, amoral and unethical. Even little children were able to inflict pain and commit murder with aplomb and exhibit no remorse. Mercy was non-existent. Perhaps a print book would have worked more successfully for me, but I don’t think so. When I checked out part of a print version, I realized that the vulgarity continued throughout.
For those with a broader outlook, have a go at it, but be prepared, the tale is about a difficult period for Jamaica. It describes a group of people from a culture dominated by scarcity, destitution, illiteracy, a lack of respect for human life, dignity or decency, and a total lack of morality and ethics. The characters seem like thugs, gangsters, and prostitutes, all of whom seemed to prey on those weaker than them, with the strong completely dominating and terrorizing those weaker, at will. They had no moral compass, and I had no further interest in discovering anything further about them or their lives.
If you are more inclined to be sympathetic to those that fail or suffer because of their environment and upbringing, who perhaps can’t rise above adversity because of a lack of opportunity, but who instead choose to harass and mistreat others to prove their own machismo and ignore their own failures, there might be some kind of a message here. I simply could not endure the presentation of such unlikeable characters and dialogue. I think if I decide to learn more about Jamaica, its people and its culture, I will read a non-fiction book that presents a more positive image, first and foremost, with information about its past and present problems included, but not in the horrifically graphic way of this book. As a disclaimer, since I haven’t finished it, perhaps my assessment needs refining. So if you enjoyed the book, accept my apologies, and let me know what I missed.