Half Blood Blues – Esi Edugyan

Half Blood Blues Short listed for 2011 Booker Prize

Five words from the blurb: Berlin, black, betrayal, cabaret, secrets

Half Blood Blues begins in 1940s Paris and follows the members of a jazz band who have fled to the city to escape the Nazi regime. The star of the band is Hiero, a trumpet player of outstanding talent. But as a black man of German origin he finds that Paris soon becomes just as dangerous as the German home that he left behind. The other band members, Sid and Chip, are African-Americans, but as US citizens they have less to fear. The story follows Sid and Chip as they reunite fifty years later and begin deal with the guilt they feel for the events that took place in Paris all those years ago.

This book has a fantastic atmosphere. The dialect instantly transports you into the lives of this little known section of society.

A real racket started up across the street. I looked up to see Hieronymus yanking on the bug’s door like he meant to break in. Like he reckoned he got the power to pop every damn lock in this city. When it didn’t open, what did he do but press his fool face up to the glass like a child. Hell, though, he was a child. Stupid young for what he could do on a horn. You heard a lifetime in one brutal note.  

Initially I found the writing very engaging, but it did lose some momentum in the central section. This slight lull in plot was quickly forgotten as I reached the final pages – I loved the emotional ending.

Despite these positives I didn’t fall in love with this book. I think this is mainly due to the fact that I am not a big lover of music, especially jazz. I’m sure that anyone with an interest in the jazz scene will enjoy this book a lot more than I did.

My second problem was that although this book covered a refreshingly different section of society it basically tells the same type of WWII story that I’ve read many times before.

If you are a jazz fan then I highly recommend this book to you, but tread carefully if you’re after literary depth or a new way of looking at the world.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

I can’t say I really connected with the characters. Lucy Bird Books

I like little corners of  World war two, like this one…. Winstonsdad’s Blog 

Despite plenty of research, the story seems to lack veracity… The Art of Fiction 

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  1. Laura says:

    This sounds interesting, Jackie. I’ve read a fair amount of WW II literature, but I’m a music lover, so this may be worth a read.

    1. Jackie says:

      Laura, I’d love to know what you think of this one! I don’t think it will be literary enough for your tastes, but would be very interested to read your thoughts.

  2. I’m immersed in this fantasy of reading the longlist for this year’s Giller prize, so I hope to be taking in this novel before long; she is an author whose first novel I’ve had on my shelf for years, so I’m particularly keen to give her work a try. I’ll revisit your comments after I’m finished reading: I’m curious…

    1. Jackie says:

      BuriedInPrint, I suspect that reading the Giller list will be far more rewarding than this years Booker. I’ll keep an eye on your reviews and read those that appeal to me. Enjoy :-)

      1. For me what made this WWII story stand out was Edugyan’s unwavering attention to voice. She gets inside her narrator and her prose takes shape and it just doesn’t slip. His telling of the events is what has stuck with me even more than the events themselves.

  3. JoV says:

    I look forward most to this book but since you didn’t like it that much, I don’t think I will too. I’m reading An Equal Music and I’m bored, not all books about music interest me and considering I played the piano up till Grade 8. :(

    1. Jackie says:

      Jo, I haven’t read An Equal Music, but it doesn’t appeal to me. I can’t think of a book about music that I have really enjoyed. :-(

  4. Stujallen says:

    I enjoy it jackie not so much on liteary front I do think the two time lines in the book were well done it is easy to make them similar and she didn’t , but I m a sucker for quirky world war two tales like this thanks for mention all best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, I agree about the two time lines – they were better written than most dual narratives. Shame I don’t enjoy WWII narratives that much any more. :-(

  5. I’m a huge jazz fan so colour me intrigued.

    1. Jackie says:

      Damned Conjuror, I think you may enjoy this one :-)

  6. parrish says:

    Just recently finished this and hope to have a post written sometime soon, but generally I enjoyed this it was a good old fashioned page turner

    1. Jackie says:

      parrish, Yep – good page turner, just like most of the short list.


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