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Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

Half Blood Blues (2011)

by Esi Edugyan

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
7745311,926 (3.74)1 / 188
Recently added bylavergne_rsl, Jon38, vnesting, harefoot, hedley, private library, Nikoz, jldarden, drachenbraut23
  1. 20
    The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (bookwormjules)
    bookwormjules: Part of the 2011 Giller Prize Short List
  2. 10
    The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje (bookwormjules)
    bookwormjules: Part of the Giller 2011 Shortlist
  3. 10
    Oh, Play That Thing by Roddy Doyle (bsiemens)
    bsiemens: Taken at face value, both books are about the jazz subculture during the early 20th century: 'Half Blood Blues' is set in France during the 1930s & 'Oh, Play That Thing' is set in America during the 1920s. The writing style is also quite similar.
  4. 00
    Hitler's Black Victims: The Historical Experience of Afro-Germans, European Blacks, Africans and African Americans in th by Clarence Lusane (goddesspt2)
    goddesspt2: Non-fiction work to complement Edugyan's novel
  5. 00
    Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje (ShelfMonkey)
  6. 00
    The Free World by David Bezmozgis (bookwormjules)
    bookwormjules: Part of the 2011 Giller Prize Shortlist
  7. 00
    The Antagonist by Lynn Coady (bookwormjules)
    bookwormjules: Part of the 2011 Giller Short-list
  8. 01
    Better Living Through Plastic Explosives by Zsuzsi Gartner (bookwormjules)
    bookwormjules: Part of the 2011 Giller shortlist

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English (52)  French (1)  All languages (53)
Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
This is a captivating story about black jazz musicians in Europe at the start of WWII. I didn't know anything about the story of jazz in Germany and France in the late 1930s but apparently there were a lot of black musicians who moved to Germany to get away from Jim Crow laws in the US. Things took a turn for the worse after the Nazis came into power. The main characters flee to Paris and you know how that turned out as a place of refuge.

The story is written from the point of view of one of the characters in the 1990s going back to the time of the war. His present day persona is much influenced by the events that happened back in the time of the war and his doubts and guilt compel the reader to find out what happened.

I bought this book at a writer's festival after hearing the author talk about it. One of the things that she said about writing the book is that she wrote it once and then went back and wrote it in the dialogue that the musicians would have used. I think that is part of the interest of the story as it sounds authentic but doesn't obscure the meaning of what is said.
  Familyhistorian | Sep 20, 2014 |
I love Canada Reads -- especially when it introduces me to a book I would not have otherwise chosen to read. Such is the case with Half Blood Blues -- I'd decided not to read it when I first heard of it, but picked it up when it was shortlisted for Canada Reads. And I loved it!

Ms. Edugyan has given us a page-turner of a story. She alternates in time between 1939-40 and 1992, and makes expert use of that technique. I knew the outcomes of some plot elements and gained a deeper appreciation as I learned what was behind them. Other parts of the story remained a mystery until the end. This all contributed to making the story so intriguing!

I loved the character of the narrator, Sid, and what his story says about friendship, loyalty and the longing to be part of something beautiful and lasting. ( )
  LynnB | Feb 23, 2014 |
This was just OK. It was an interesting time to read about and about an aspect of history I knew nothing about. But I felt there was a much better book lurking in here somewhere. I didn't like the characters and they were mostly very flat. And the explanation for what happened to Hiero as a 1 page dream at the end - What?!! Seriously!!
Not me, I'm afraid. ( )
  infjsarah | Feb 21, 2014 |
I anticipated this book as a good read for a few reasons. Jazz, World War II, Europe, and CanadaReads 2014 Donovan Bailey; however, I was somewhat disappointed. 3.5 stars because I just found the idiomatic language and phrasing so disruptive. It was like like Miles Davis. I know he is good but not my style. No offence, no apologies it just didn't tap my soul like I thought it would. The bluesy setting and jazzy characters were a delight but the melody wasn't there. ( )
  literateowl | Jan 19, 2014 |
AMAZING. I wasn't into it for the first quarter or so, but by halfway through, I couldn't put it down. This is going to give Annabel some serious competition for Canada Reads 2014. It's the better book, but doesn't feel as "Canadian" - merely due to the setting and whatnot. Either way, one of my favorite books I've read this year.

Edit: just finishing up Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood. At this point, with only The Orenda left to read, Half Blood Blues is my favorite out of the Canada Reads finalists.

Edit 2: It has been a little while since I finished the book. It has really stuck with me, so I came back here to make sure that I gave it five stars instead of four. Yep, I have it five. It really deserves it. ( )
  ScribbleKey | Jan 10, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
Though Half-Blood Blues may generally have been overrated by critics, it delivers an undeniably potent, soul-searching examination of friendship and trust. This may be a novel about beautiful music in an ugly and terrifying place, all those mellifluous strands of jazz amid the jingoism and cacophony of Nazism. But major historical and literary themes of the 20th century weave through too—racism and the plight of the outsider. The book also probes timeless and universal dilemmas: Should one invest in the notion that art can transcend socially constructed barriers? Should friendship be manipulated or even sacrificed on the altar of professional ambition?
Though "Half-Blood Blues" is a jazz book, its greatest strength lies more in the rhythms of its conversations and Griffiths' pitch-perfect voice than in any musical exchanges. ...[H]is dazed account of a band of weary survivors coalescing around Hiero's "Half-Blood Blues" is intoxicating enough to send you crate-digging through a record store's back room for anything like it.
The novel is truly extraordinary in its evocation of time and place, its shimmering jazz vernacular, its pitch-perfect male banter and its period slang. Edugyan never stumbles with her storytelling, not over one sentence. The few weaknesses in the plot, such as they are, simply don't matter.
added by geocroc | editThe Independent, Arifa Akbar (Sep 9, 2011)
What could have been a great Afro-German story has been sidelined..Despite the book's blurb tantalising us with promises of a black German experience, this novel is really about Sid and his version of events that led up to Hiero's arrest. It's also about his strained relationship with Chip. But as black jazz musicians they are already a familiar motif in American culture, and there's a touch of central casting about their portrayal. And while Sid's slangy vernacular is often charismatic, elsewhere the novel is problematic. It's hard to accept that both men would have chosen to live under the tyrannical regime of the Third Reich....
Much of the power of this unforgettable novel comes from the way its racial themes echo. It is very difficult to perceive and articulate the twisted skein of emotion that is black experience – and yet that is just what Edugyan manages to do with this brilliantly conceived, gorgeously executed novel. It's a work that promises to lead black literature in a whole new direction.
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Book description
"Paris, 1940. A brilliant jazz musician, Hiero, is arrested by the Nazis and never heard from again. He is twenty years old. He is a German citizen. And he is black. Fifty years later, his friend and fellow musician, Sid, must relive that unforgettable time, revealing the friendships, love affairs and treacheries that sealed Hiero's fate. From the smoky bars of pre-war Berlin to the salons of Paris - where the legendary Louis Armstrong makes an appearance - Sid, with his distinctive and rhythmic German-American slang, leads the reader through a fascinating world alive with passion, music and the spirit of resistance. Half-Blood Blues, the second novel by an exceptionally talented young writer, is an entrancing, electric story about jazz, race, love and loyalty, and the sacrifices we ask of ourselves, and demand of others, in the name of art." -- Publisher.
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"Berlin, 1939. The Hot-Time Swingers, a popular German American jazz band, have been forbidden to play live because the Nazis have banned their 'degenerate music.' After escaping to Paris, where they meet Louis Armstrong, the band's brilliant young trumpet-player, Hieronymus Falk, is arrested in a cafe by the Gestapo. It is June 1940. He is never heard from again. He is twenty years old, a German citizen. And he is black. Berlin, 1992. Falk, now a jazz legend, is the subject of a celebratory documentary. Two of the original Hot-Time Swingers American band members, Sid Griffiths and Chip Jones, are invited to attend the film's premier in Berlin. As they return to the landscape of their past friendships, rivalries, loves and betrayals, Sid, the only witness to Falk's disappearance who has always refused to speak about what happened, is forced to break his silence. Sid recreates the lost world of Berlin's pre-war smoky bars, and the salons of Paris, telling his vibrant and suspenseful story in German American slang. Half-Blood Blues is a novel about music and race, love and loyalty, and marks the arrival of an extraordinarily 'gifted storyteller' (The Toronto Star)"--… (more)

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