This is a difficult read, not because the writing is dense, but because it is full of unending violence. And as one reviewer pointed out, it is misnamed. It is not the least bit brief, clocking in at pretty close to 700 pages. It is a woe filled tale of the losers in Jamaica, going back to the years of the Cuban revolution. The legacy of slavery is an unhappy one, but no where is it as devastating as it is in the Caribbean. Haiti is just one example, but apparently there are many more. Women are routinely raped and every one is threatened with gun violence.
The center of the book’s massive orbit is a 1976 attempt to assassinate
reggae singer Bob Marley. In the mid-1970s he was building up to release his great
album, “Exodus” (1977). Meanwhile, the island that made Marley was coming apart at the seams.
Food shortages dominated, and guns were everywhere. Following the
departure of the British overlords, infrastructure had deteriorated. In the 1970s, as his star rose abroad, Marley was caught between these
two parties and their increasingly violent enforcers. James easily could
have told us that story alone, the tale of a man wrestling with that
responsibility, his life in danger, his dream collapsing. Indeed, there
are scenes to that effect. But mostly James has focused on doing
something far more interesting by jumping from one voice to the next. It is brutal and very real.