Picks and Pans Review: Catch a Fire: the Life of Bob Marley

updated 08/15/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/15/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Timothy White

Marley was the reggae superstar who died in 1981 of brain cancer at 36. He was connected with the Jamaican socioreligious cult Rastafarianism, and he was also regarded in some circles as a visionary of Third World unity. In this fascinating if uneven book, former Rolling Stone senior editor White points out that from Marley's childhood on, he was treated by family and friends as if he had supernatural powers. His grandfather was a village "myalman" (a deflector of evil spirits), and Marley himself was once supposed to have willed a native woman to bleed spontaneously. When he had trouble with a toe, Marley made a prophecy he would die in three years, which in fact happened. White says Marley's religious conversion—he was born a Christian—was triggered by a dream. In it a shadowy stranger gave him a black ring he came to believe belonged to Haile Selassie, the late Ethiopian emperor (born Ras Tafari Makonnen), whom Rastafarians worship. White never attempts to examine the tales of Marley's magic, healing and visions. And while he interlaces his book with meticulous research into Jamaican folklore and history and interviewed Marley two dozen times during the last seven years of his life, he skimps on details that might give a clue as to what the Jamaican really felt about his life. The cover painting by Daniel Maffia, though beautifully designed, depicts Marley as pinched, purse-lipped and more woeful than any dime-store Jesus. Marley, whose compassion for the "suffrah" (sufferer) was filtered through the stance of a knife-sharp Kingston street tough, certainly would have decried that sentimentality. (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, $16.95)

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