About the Book
Title: Half Blood Blues
Author: Esi Edugyan
Publication: Serpent's Tail (2011)/Amazon Kindle
Summary: In Half Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan weaves the horror of betrayal, the burden of loyalty and the possibility that, if you don't tell your story, someone else might tell it for you. And they just might tell it wrong ...
What I Think
I wanted to read this because it had been shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2011, along with five others: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (the winning novel), Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch, The Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt, Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman and Snowdrops by A.D. Miller. A shortlisting for this highly prestigious prize is, in itself, a massive achievement, and I therefore had high expectations of this novel.
Set in Berlin and Paris at the beginning of World War II, a group of musicians are brought together by not much other than their shared love of jazz. Sid (on bass) and Chip, friends since childhood in Baltimore, had travelled to Germany to escape the Jim Crow laws governing 1920s America. Paul (a Jewish pianist), Ernst (club owner of the Hound) and Fritz (a blond Bavarian) were all Germans, as was Hieronymous 'the kid' Falk. Hiero was also black, a Mischling, a half-blood, and a mean trumpeter, due to play with Louis Armstrong in Paris. Throw into the mix Delilah Brown, a singer who gets Sid's blood pumping faster than Paul's nimble fingers on the ivories. The political, personal and professional tension is running high, and people don't always cope well in those kind of circumstances.
"Don't get me wrong - I loved Berlin. I ain't saying otherwise. And for awhile the Housepainter didn't even seem as bad as old Jim Crow. Least here in Europe a jack felt a little loved for his art - even if it was a secret love [...] Cause blacks just wasn't no kind of priority back in those years. I guess there just wasn't enough of us."
Although the main events are surrounding Hiero, this is Sid's story. He has a strong voice, which is heavily accented. This sometimes makes for slow reading as you need to concentrate to work out what he is saying. Add to that the heavy subject matter and this was not an easy read. However, it was very satisfying and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the era, jazz, or a darn good story.
About the Author
Esi Edugyan is a graduate of the University of Victoria and Johns Hopkins University. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, including Best New American Voices 2003. Her debut novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, was published internationally. Half Blood Blues, won the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize for Fiction. It was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize, the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction, the Rogers Writers Trust Fiction Prize, and was longlisted for the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia, with her husband and daughter.