By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Marlon James
Another side of life is shown in Marlon James “A Brief History of Seven Killings”. It takes place in two Jamaican cities and New York, but it is a vision of ghetto poverty, power, and politics.
The ghetto is “a part of a city, especially a slum area, occupied by a minority group or groups”. “Ghetto” implies most residents are poor. However, a few residents are powerful because minority groups have leaders. “A Brief History of Seven Killings” is about leaders who influence or control the life and death of millions of people. Every Ghetto has its leaders.
Some leaders grow up in the neighborhood; others come from outside. Some are gang affiliated thugs. Some are shoe shined bureaucrats that work for local, and national governments; others are agents of foreign governments or illegal cartels. James implies these powerful leaders are intelligent, politically astute, and motivated to act in what they perceive is self-interest. Violence is a tool, and sometimes a consequence, of their action.
The author, Marlon James, is the son of a Jamaican female police detective and Jamaican lawyer. With a provenance that suggests James knows what he is writing about, “A Brief History of Seven Killings” explores the dark side of Kingston and Copenhagen City (a fictional suburb of Kingston).
James writes about the late 70s and early 80s in Jamaica. In James story, America perceives Jamaica is on the edge of turning into a communist nation like Cuba. The CIA has covert operatives who interfere in Jamaican political life. One character is called Dr. Love who may be a double agent, a Cuban spy, or a freelance terrorist. Dr. Love’s role is pivotal in James’ story.
The power structure existing in James’ story revolves around gangs called Posses in Jamaica’s capitol city of Kingston. One of the most violent and feared is the Copenhagen City’ Posse, led by Josey Wales. The Posses are made up of thugs with colorful names like “Who Shot the Sheriff”.
James tells a fictional version of the famous Jamaican singer, Bob Marley, who is only identified as “The Singer”. The Singer attempts to create peace among the Kingston’ Posses and is assassinated for the effort. James suggests the assassination is to promote the idea of “one Don” to manage all the Posses and control the election of one or the other political parties in Jamaica. One party represents interests of America and the other does not. The “one Don’s” objective is to make whomever is elected beholding to him. The crux of the story is that lives of Jamaicans are being influenced and controlled by leaders of corruption and foreign government interests; not by freedom of choice or election.
James antiheroes, like Mark Twain’s accented southern boys, are difficult to understand because of their patois but as one begins to understand what is going on, “A Brief History of Seven Killings” tragically, and sometimes comically, entertains listeners. There are many stories told that show how a free press works; how women are unfairly treated; how nationalism can be a societal cancer, and how little influence the poor have on the course of their lives.