A Marlon James Colloquy

“-Jet taking off and  nobody know where it going?  Boss, you taking ghetto man for idiot again?

-Mister, me say nobody duh know.  Not even the commissioner know.  He don’t even know that the Singer plan to fly out.

-Is a top secret?

-More secret than the colour of the queen panty.”

That’s the funniest line in Marlon James’ nearly 700 page epic “A Brief History of Seven Killings”.  In fact it has the distinction of being the only somewhat humourous line in the book which is populated by a very large cast of violent, murderous, corrupt human beings.  Find out more than you would probably ever want to know about Jamaican gangs.  Marlon James did.  He, in his own estimation, just used his imagination. It’s very good.

“In his Facebook post, James said that being famous hasn’t made him feel any safer in Minnesota.

“I have a big global voice, but a small local one, because I don’t want to be a target, and resent that in 2017, that’s still the only choice I get to have. … I go out of my way to avoid police, because I don’t know how to physically act around them. Do I hold my hands in the air and get shot?  Do I kneel and get shot? Do I reach for my ID and get shot?

“Do I say I’m an English teacher and get shot? Do I tell them everything I am about to do, and get shot? Do I assume that seven of them will still feel threatened by one of me, and get shot? Do I simply stand and be big black guy and get shot? Do I fold my arms and squeeze myself into smaller and get shot? Do I be a smartass and get shot? Do I leave my iPhone on a clip of me on Seth Meyers, so I can play it and say, see, that’s me. I’m one of the approved black guys. And still get shot?”

“… You will never know how it feels to realize that it doesn’t matter how many magazine articles I get, or which state names a day after me. Tomorrow when I get on my bike, I am big black guy, who might be shot before the day ends, because my very size will make a cop feel threatened. Or if I’m a woman, my very mouth. And a jury of white people, and people of colour sold on white supremacy will acquit him. And even me hoping for hipster points on my fixed wheel bike, is countered by them thinking I probably stole the bike.”

Quoted in the Washington Post June 2017 in an article by Susan Hogan

Marlon James is a big man.  He grew up in Jamaica, in Kingston.  I sorta figured that.  I didn’t know his mother was a cop and his father a lawyer and that he’s “gay” until a few days ago.  That’s the word he uses so I’m all right with it.  I just finished the book.

I didn’t have the guts to get in line to have “A Brief History of Seven Killings” signed by the author at the Granville Island Hotel these scant couple of years ago during the “Vancouver Writers Fest”.  “Don’t hurt me, Marlon.  Would you, ah, mind autographing or signing your, um, book?  Like, ah, before I faint?”

So I put my consort up to it.  Nursing my drink I was chatting with John Vaillant who happened by, hunkered down, and we reminisced about “Trivento Private Reserve Malbec” from my great days of wine consulting.  He was going on at the festival a bit later, same as Marlon.  We’d met before and I mentioned I’d reviewed his book “The Jaguar’s Children” for “Postmedia”.

“I never read my reviews,” he said.

“Totally understand,” I said.

And this is what Marlon James wrote on the title page of “A Brief History…” that fine early evening.  “To Cathy!  “If it no go so, it go near it” – Jamaican proverb.”  The date was October 27, 2015.

Marlon James

I wish I was back there in 2015 and had the opportunity again.  I’d know what to do.  “Marlon. Hombre.  Where you get that scar, man?  That is hot.”



Image crop from “Signature”.


Author: Steven Brown


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