Monday, 29 September 2014

STRANGER THAN FICTION: Author Marlon James sheds light on a tragic chapter in reggae history

IN RETROSPECT: The past figure's prominently in James' ambitious new novel.

"It's epic in every sense... a testament to Mr. James' vaulting ambition and prodigious talent." That is how The New York Times' notoriously acerbic chief book critic Michiko Kakutani describes A Brief History of Seven Killings (One Word Publications), the latest full-length novel to spring from the creative imagination of Jamaica's Marlon James, one of the most distinctive voices leading the ongoing renaissance in "West Indian" literature.

After wowing critics and stirring heated book-club debates with his acclaimed debut John Crow's Devil and the mesmerizing follow-up The Book of Night Women, James is poised to dazzle readers anew when Brief History lands in bookstores on October 16. This go-round the skilled storyteller is drawing on a dark chapter in reggae history to spin a yarn that compellingly marries fact with fiction while tackling truth versus hearsay.

On the third of December 1976, a couple of days before Bob Marley was scheduled to perform at the widely publicized Smile Jamaica Concert, an event put on to help ease the rampant political tensions of the day (weeks before the General Elections), seven West Kingston gunmen stormed Bob's house and opened fire. Much ado was made of the attack that could have snuffed out the superstar's life, but very little about the assailants ever made headlines. What was the end of their story?

Focussing his lens on this whole sordid affair, James assumed the role of an oral biographer, assembling a diverse cast of voices (ghosts, beauty queens, average Joes, you names it) to craft was has amounted to "a compelling novel of monumental scope and ambition." 

As expected, Brief History has been garnering rave reviews from tough critics all over the world, who've largely declared it a triumph. "Upon finishing, the reader will have completed an indispensable and essential history of Jamaica's troubled years. This novel should be required reading," declares Publisher's Weekly. Adds The New York Times' Kakutani, "[Brief History] is 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."

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