Jamaica’s Marlon James wins prestigious British Award

Photo courtesy of sfchronicle.com
Photo courtesy of sfchronicle.com
Photo courtesy of sfchronicle.com

Marlon James became the first Jamaican winner of the prestigious Man Booker Prize for fiction Tuesday with a vivid, violent, exuberant, and expletive-laden novel based on the attempted assassination of Bob Marley.

The 44-year-old James, who wrote for the Jamaica Observer in his early years, was awarded the 50,000 pound (US$77,000) prize during a black-tie dinner at London’s medieval Guildhall. “A Brief History of Seven Killings” is the third novel from the writer, who now lives in Minneapolis.

The book charts political violence in Jamaica and the spread of crack cocaine in the US, and hinges on a 1976 attempt on the life of reggae superstar Marley — identified in the book only as “The Singer”. The story is told in a cacophony of voices — from gangsters to ghosts, drug dealers to CIA agents — and in dialects ranging from American English to Jamaican patois.

Critics have compared it to the stream-of-consciousness novels of William Faulkner and the hyper-violent movies of Quentin Tarantino, while James himself has cited Charles Dickens as an influence on his multi-character depiction of society.

James beat five other authors, including two Americans: Pulitzer Prize winner Anne Tyler, for the multi-generational family saga “A Spool of Blue Thread”, and Hawaiian writer Hanya Yanagihara for “A Little Life”, the story of four male friends, one of whom is a survivor of horrific child abuse.

Founded in 1969, the award is officially named the Man Booker Prize after its sponsor, financial services firm Man Group PLC.

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