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 chairman of the judging panel said A Brief History of Seven Killings was "the most exciting book on the list" and a novel full of the "sheer pleasure" of language. He said it had been the unanimous choice of the five judges. 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." James, who teaches creative writing at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., says he saw the book as "a novel of exile."
This is the second year the prize has been open to English-language writers of all nationalities instead of only those from the British Commonwealth. James beat five other authors, including two Americans: Pulitzer Prize winner Anne Tyler, for the multigenerational 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. The other finalists were British writer Sunjeev Sahota's immigrants story The Year of the Runaways; the fratricide fable The Fishermen, by Nigeria's Chigozie Obioma; and British writer Tom McCarthy's digital drama Satin Island. (Last year's winner drew upon his father's experiences in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.)