A Brief History of Seven Killings
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"A Brief History of Seven Killings" Summary

By Marlon James

fiction | 704 pages | Published in 2014

ISBN_13: 9780698170506
ISBN_10: 0698170504

Estimated read time: 7 min read

One Sentence Summary

A sweeping, multifaceted tale that delves into the violent repercussions and complex connections resulting from an assassination attempt on Bob Marley.


"A Brief History of Seven Killings" by Marlon James is a powerful and ambitious novel that explores the complex political landscape of Jamaica in the 1970s and its impact on individuals caught in the midst of violence, power struggles, and betrayal. Through multiple perspectives and a non-linear narrative, James weaves a compelling story that delves into the dark underbelly of Jamaican history and its lasting effects on society.

Brief Synopsis

The story takes place in the late 1970s and stretches into the 1990s, spanning various locations such as Kingston, Jamaica, and New York City. The central event of the novel is the attempted assassination of Bob Marley, the iconic reggae musician, in December 1976, just two days before a highly anticipated concert. However, the story is not solely focused on this event but uses it as a catalyst to explore the intricate web of characters and their interconnected lives.

Main Events

The events in the novel are presented from the perspective of multiple characters, each offering their own narrative thread and unique insights. While it is impossible to cover every storyline in detail, highlighted here are some of the key events and characters that shape the narrative:

Main EventsCharacters Involved
Attempted assassination of Bob MarleyJosey Wales, leader of the Storm Posse, sets his sights on assassinating Bob Marley but fails. This sets off a chain of events that ripples through the lives of many characters, including Papa-Lo, Weeper, Bam-Bam, Shotta Sherrif, and more.
The rise and fall of political powerThe novel explores the rise and fall of various political figures in Jamaica, such as Sir Arthur George Jennings and Michael Manley. Their struggles for power and influence have far-reaching consequences and impact the lives of both the ruling class and the poor.
Gang warfare and violenceThe story delves into the violent world of Jamaican gangs and their internal power struggles. Characters like Papa-Lo, Weeper, and Shotta Sherrif navigate the treacherous landscape of gang warfare, highlighting the brutal realities faced by those involved in organized crime.
Migration to New York CityThe migration of Jamaicans to New York City opens up a new setting for the story. Characters like Bam-Bam and Cynthia find themselves caught between two worlds, trying to establish their identities while also grappling with the traumas of their past in Jamaica.
Legacy of violence and traumaThroughout the novel, the legacy of violence and trauma is explored, transcending generations. The cycle of violence perpetuates itself, impacting not only the characters directly involved but also their children, creating a complex web of intergenerational consequences.

Main Characters

The novel boasts a vast and diverse cast of characters. Here are a few key players that shape the narrative:

Josey WalesA central figure in the story, Josey Wales is a ruthless gang leader known as the "Storm Posse." He becomes embroiled in the attempt to assassinate Bob Marley, setting in motion a series of events that reverberate throughout the novel. Josey is determined, violent, and haunted by the ghosts of his past.
Papa-LoPapa-Lo is the charismatic leader of a rival gang opposed to Josey Wales. He is characterized by his loyalty, compassion, and a desire for peace. His interactions with other characters, such as his protégé Weeper, provide insight into the complexities of power dynamics within the world of Jamaican gangs.
Nina BurgessNina is a strong-willed and determined journalist who becomes obsessed with uncovering the truth behind the attempted assassination of Bob Marley. Through her investigation, she navigates the dangerous political landscape and the underbelly of Kingston's criminal underworld. Nina's brave pursuit of the truth forms a compelling thread throughout the novel.
Bam-BamBam-Bam is one of the many characters who migrates from Jamaica to New York City. He struggles to establish himself in this new environment while grappling with the traumas of his past. Bam-Bam's journey showcases the challenges faced by immigrants and explores themes of identity, longing, and the search for belonging.

Themes and Insights

"A Brief History of Seven Killings" raises numerous themes and offers insightful commentary on various aspects of society. Some of the key themes include:

Power and Betrayal

At the heart of the novel lies the struggle for power and the constant betrayal among characters seeking to gain or maintain control. James explores the corrupting influence of power and how it molds individuals and societies. The treachery and manipulation that take place serve as a mirror to the wider political landscape of Jamaica.

Identity and Belonging

The characters in the novel grapple with their identities and search for a sense of belonging. Whether it is individuals caught between cultures or migrating to new countries, the novel portrays the challenges faced by those whose identities are in flux. The exploration of these themes sheds light on the complexities of migration, race, and nationality.

Violence and Trauma

Violence and trauma are ever-present in the lives of the characters. James does not shy away from portraying the brutal realities of gang warfare and the lasting psychological impact it leaves on individuals. Through the interweaving narratives, he highlights the cyclical nature of violence and the ripple effects it has on future generations.

History and Memory

The novel is rooted in Jamaican history and explores the importance of remembering and reconciling with the past. James skillfully captures the political climate of the 1970s, shedding light on events and figures often overlooked or forgotten. The novel acts as a testament to the power of storytelling and the importance of recognizing and preserving collective memory.

Reader's Takeaway

"A Brief History of Seven Killings" is a dense and challenging read that captivates with its intricate web of narratives and vivid storytelling. Through its exploration of power, betrayal, identity, violence, and history, the novel forces readers to confront the complexities of society and human nature. It is not a book for the faint of heart, but those willing to delve into its pages will be rewarded with a profound and unforgettable reading experience.


Marlon James' "A Brief History of Seven Killings" is a tour de force that tackles the complex history of Jamaica and its legacy of violence and power struggles. With its sprawling cast of characters, multiple perspectives, and unflinching portrayal of the dark underbelly of society, the novel offers a gripping and thought-provoking exploration of power, identity, and the impact of history on individuals and communities. It is a testament to James' skill as a writer and his ability to navigate difficult subjects with grace and nuance. "A Brief History of Seven Killings" is an essential read for anyone seeking a challenging and immersive literary experience.

A Brief History of Seven Killings FAQ

  1. What is 'A Brief History of Seven Killings' about?

    A Brief History of Seven Killings is a novel by Marlon James that explores the political unrest and violence in Jamaica during the 1970s and 1980s, focusing on the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976 and its aftermath.

  2. Who is the author of 'A Brief History of Seven Killings'?

    The author of 'A Brief History of Seven Killings' is Marlon James, a Jamaican writer who won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2015 for this novel.

  3. How many killings are there in the book?

    'A Brief History of Seven Killings' refers to seven specific killings, but the book also delves into the broader violent history of Jamaica, including gang warfare and political violence.

  4. Is 'A Brief History of Seven Killings' based on true events?

    While the novel is a work of fiction, it is inspired by real events, such as the attempted assassination of Bob Marley, and reflects the social and political climate of Jamaica during that time period.

  5. What is the writing style of the book?

    The book is written in a nonlinear style, with multiple narrators and switching timelines. This narrative technique allows the author to explore different perspectives and provide a comprehensive view of the events and characters involved.

  6. Is 'A Brief History of Seven Killings' a difficult read?

    The novel can be challenging due to its complex structure and Jamaican Patois dialect used by some characters. However, many readers find the story and characters captivating enough to make it a worthwhile read.

  7. What is the cultural significance of 'A Brief History of Seven Killings'?

    The book delves into the history and culture of Jamaica, exploring issues of race, politics, and identity. It sheds light on the violence and social unrest that plagued the country during that time period and provides insights into Jamaican society.

  8. Is 'A Brief History of Seven Killings' a standalone novel?

    Yes, 'A Brief History of Seven Killings' is a standalone novel. It is not part of a series or connected to any other books by Marlon James.

  9. What is the reception and critical acclaim for the book?

    'A Brief History of Seven Killings' received critical acclaim and won numerous awards, including the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2015. It has been praised for its bold storytelling, compelling characters, and the depth of its exploration of Jamaican history and culture.

  10. Is there a film adaptation of 'A Brief History of Seven Killings'?

    As of now, there is no film adaptation of 'A Brief History of Seven Killings.'