Jamaican prize-winning novel on Bob Marley, review

This music video, recorded in Germany, is called Bob Marley – Live In Rockpalast, Dortmund (Full Concert) – 1980.

By Karl Dallas in Britain:

Monumental musings on mayhem and Marley

Tuesday 10th November 2015

KARL DALLAS recommends this year’s Man Booker prizewinner, set in Jamaica from the turbulent 1970s onwards

A Brief History of 7 Killings
by Marlon James
(Riverhead Books, £8.99)

WINNER of this year’s Man Booker prize, this long story of over 700 pages centres on the attempted assassination of reggae singer Bob Marley in 1976.

It’s a monumental and multifaceted achievement even though, because much of it is in Jamaican patois, it is not an easy read.

And, because of its depiction of the lower depths of Jamaican society, it’s unlikely to obtain the endorsement of the Jamaican tourist board.

The genesis of the author’s third book began in some confusion. In a note at the end he writes of its conception: “I had a narrative, even a few pages, but still not quite a novel. The problem was that I couldn’t tell whose story it was.

“Draft after draft, page after page, character after character, and still no through line, no narrative spine, nothing.”

A colleague suggested that he turn those fragments into a multivoiced narrative. “I had a novel, and it was right in front of me all that time. Half-formed and fully formed characters, scenes out of place, hundreds of pages that needed sequence and purpose.

“A novel that would be driven only by voice.”

Supposedly, it took the Man Booker judges just two hours’ discussion before they unanimously gave James the award but it’ll take readers many hours more, if not days and weeks more, to reach their own verdict.

This is a big book, not only in length but in depth also.

Reading it, I was reminded many times of the nightmare “Nighttime” dream sequence in James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Like that book, its strength is its basis in reality. But while Joyce concentrated the focus of his work on a single Dublin day, Marlon James’s narrative begins in 1976 and ends in 1991, shifting from one ghetto to another and from Kingston, Jamaica to Miami and New York.

It’s not something you can read just once and leave to gather dust on your bookshelves. I guarantee that, if you are prepared to put the work in, it will repay repeated readings in the years to come.

The author doesn’t make things easy, though.

Although he provides a list of the 70-odd — some very odd — characters at the beginning of the book, his hero-victim is referred to only as the Singer, although a Rolling Stone journalist says at one stage: “I should head back to Marley’s house tomorrow. I mean, I had an appointment. Like that means anything in Jamaica.”

The various ghettos are given new names. Kingston’s Tivoli Gardens becomes Copenhagen, which loses the irony of the original name for what one local newspaper has described as the worst slum in the Caribbean, where “three communal standpipes and two public bathrooms served a population of well over 5,000 people.”

If the book has anything like a central character, it would be Josey Wales — in real life, many Jamaicans have adopted names from US films. Robert Brammer became Clint Eastwood. Shotta Sherrif/Roland Palmer, don of the Eight Lanes, takes his name from Marley’s “I shot the sheriff” and the term becomes a generic description of ghetto killers.

“Me stun like little boy when him first see a dead shotta,” says one character.

Wales is obviously based on the real-life Lester Coke, the former Tivoli posse drugs boss, whose death in a crack-house fire is the climax of James’s story.

The book could do with a patois glossary and one advantage of reading the Kindle edition is that if you select a word you don’t understand you can sometimes, though not always, be given an explanation.

One thing that jarred with me was the frequent obscenities. I have interviewed many Jamaican musicians, including Marley, but none of them peppered their speech with terms like “pussyhole,” which appears over 100 times in the text.

Though few of the characters could be said to be models of spiritual perfection, most of them are in fact deeply religious and not just the comparatively few Rastafarians depicted within the book.

Before he is ousted as Copenhagen “don” by the Wales/Coke character, Papa-Lo muses: “The world now feeling like the seven seals breaking one after the other. Hataclaps or ill feeling, something in the air.”

Hataclaps means “apocalypse” and the reference is to the last book in the Bible, the trippy Revelation of St John the Evangelist.

As the CIA Jamaica chief says, the situation there was “like Cuba in 1959, only worse because this was all religious.”

Jeremy Corbyn recites pro-peace poem to remember World War I

This music video from London, England says about itself:

Remembering World War One in Music and Words. St James’s Church London, 25 October 2013. Filmed by Fourman Films.

For more info on the No Glory in War campaign see here.


1 Introduction by Lindsey German, convener of Stop the War Coalition

2 The Lark Ascending, played by i Maestri conducted by John Landor. Solo violin George Hlawiczka

3 Kika Markham reads Last Post by Carol Ann Duffy and A War Film by Teresa Hooley

4 Elvis McGonigle reads Strange Meeting By Wilfred Owen and Matey by Patrick MacGill

5 Music by Sally Davies, Matthew Crampton, Abbie Coppard and Tim Coppard

6 Jeremy Corbyn MP

7 Elvis McGonaggall

8 Kate Hudson, chair of CND

9 Music by Sally Davies, Matthew Crampton, Abbie Coppard and Tim Coppard

10 Matthew Crampton reads My Dad and My Uncle were in World War One by Heathcote Williams

11 Kika and Jehane Markham

12 Billy Bragg sings: Last Night I had the Strangest Dream, My Youngest Son Came Home Today, Like Soldiers Do, The Man He Killed, Between the Wars, Where Have All the Flowers Gone

From daily The Independent in Britain today:

Jeremy Corbyn to recite Wilfred Owen’s poem ‘Futility’ in Remembrance Sunday memorial service

Jeremy Corbyn will be laying a wreath at the Cenotaph and will then attend the ceremony in his constituency of Islington North

Shehab Khan

Jeremy Corbyn will recite a poem about the futility of war at a memorial service on Remembrance Sunday in his constituency.

Mr Corbyn will join the other party leaders to lay a wreath bearing his own message at the Cenotaph and will then attend the ceremony in Islington North.

There, he will recite “Futility” by the First World War solider poet Wilfred Owen at memorial service in his constituency.

The poem tells of a fallen soldier and concentrates on the meaning of existence, the pointlessness of war and inevitability of death.

This is what the poem says:

Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields half-sown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds,—
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,
Full-nerved—still warm—too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?

Jeremy Corbyn accuses UK military chief of ‘breaching’ constitutional principle with Trident comments: here.

SKY NEWS bosses refused to apologise last night for referring to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as “Jihadi Jez” despite thousands of complaints: here.

‘Chilean poet Pablo Neruda murdered by Pinochet’

This video says about itself:

Pablo Neruda Documentary (Part 1 of 6)

8 July 2007

The life and work of Chilean Poet and Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda is examined in this powerful and inspiring documentary film. His first two books ‘Crepusculario’ and ’20 Love Poems and a Song of Despair‘ are briefly analyzed and brough to life.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Chile admits poet Pablo Neruda may have been murdered by Pinochet coup forces

Saturday 7th November 2015

CHILE’S government has acknowledged that Nobel-prize winning poet Pablo Neruda may have been murdered after the 1973 coup by General Augusto Pinochet.

The Interior Ministry released a statement on Thursday amid press reports that Mr Neruda might not have died of cancer.

The statement acknowledged a ministry document dated March of this year, which stated that it was “clearly possible and highly probable that a third party” was responsible for Mr Neruda’s death.

A close friend of President Salvador Allende, who died in the September 11 coup, the poet had planned to go into exile.

But a day before his departure he was taken by ambulance to the Santa Maria clinic in Santiago, where he had been treated for prostate cancer. He died there on September 23, officially of natural causes.

Tests for toxins on his exhumed body in 2013 were negative, but the judge investigating has ordered new tests for other substances.

William Shakespeare, King Lear and King James I

This video is called KING LEAR by William Shakespeare. Starring IAN HOLM.

By Gordon Parsons in Britain:

Shakespeare: a man of his time – and ours

Saturday 17th October 2015

1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear
by James Shapiro
(Faber & Faber, £20)

MOST of the vast output of Shakespearean criticism naturally comes to the Bard through his works. With so little known of the man, even the numerous attempts at biography have had to rely on his poetry and plays.

Indefatigable US academic James Shapiro, though, ploughs a rather different furrow. Following his in-depth study of the social and political context of key years in Shakespeare’s development in 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare — which could have been subtitled The Year of Hamlet — he has produced a sequel exploring the playwright’s dramatic and theatrical responses to the new, troubled Jacobean age.

The new king James I, determined to cement his position by uniting England with Scotland, faced a world of factional infighting fed by the toxic mix of politics and religion. At the centre¸ of course, was the Gunpowder Plot, the equivalent of potential twin-towers devastation.

If successful, it would have wiped out the whole Establishment and the inevitable reaction to its discovery affected every area of the country — even Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon.

Shakespeare and his company, newly appointed The King’s Men, were inevitably drawn into the world of the court both as part of the lavish entertainment and official attendants. Having been relatively quiet for a time, the playwright set about writing and producing three of his greatest plays, King Lear, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra.

All mirror in language and action the political currents of the time. So where Macbeth is built around the seemingly innocuous term “equivocation,” contemporary theatre-goers, probably the great majority of London’s populace, would have recognised a loaded accusation which had played a key part in unmasking the “traitors.”

There must too have been a note of critical daring in Shakespeare’s King Lear. No doubt James, the uneasy possessor of England’s throne, would [not] have been pleased to have his subjects shown a foolish king dividing his kingdom.

Shakespeare’s play, unlike his sources, does not end triumphantly but with the king’s death and no certainty of a rosy future.

Shapiro’s book reads like a splendid detective story as it fleshes out our recognition of the world from which some of the world’s greatest dramatic works emerged.

In making Shakespeare a man of his own time, it draws him even closer to us.