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Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

Half-Blood Blues (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Esi Edugyan

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
7835411,764 (3.75)1 / 193
Title:Half-Blood Blues
Authors:Esi Edugyan
Info:Thomas Allen (2011), Edition: later printing, Paperback, 304 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan (2011)

  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 Experiences of European Blacks, Africans and African Americans During the Nazi Era 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 (53)  French (1)  All languages (54)
Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
beautifully written and evocative, this novel was such a pleasure to read. i loved the examination of guilt, desire and love mixed up with the escalation of WWII. why people do the things they do - well, it's never usually very clear. people are terrific at creating their own beliefs about others and, often, distortions of truth are concocted. people are complicated, their actions can perceived to be simple. esi edugyan gets all of this, and has written such a heartbreaking story of friendship, loyalty, music, and race. my only hesitation came with the ending - after the build up of the story, it felt rushed, sudden. and then it was quickly over. the ending works - don't get me wrong. i guess i just wasn't quite ready for it to be over.

in 2014, half-blood blues was one of five novels being championed on canada reads (http://www.cbc.ca/books/canadareads/donovan-bailey-defends-half-blood-blues-by-e...). if you are not familiar with this, we are really lucky to have a bookish reality show her in canada. think survivor with books. five books are championed by five fairly well-known canadiana, and over four days the books are debated, judged and eliminated, until only one remains. half-blood blues was championed by olympic runner donovan bailey. the theme that year was 'the one book to change canada', which was a rather lofty goal. i have always felt the downside to the show has been the elimination of one book on the very first day. yes it's live programming, and yes, it's a limited window of opportunity. it's just tough losing one book so early, without enough of a chance to help it shine. it's also really tough when the champion doesn't serve the book well, as has happened a few times over the years. unfortunately, it happened with donovan bailey. he just seemed unable to eloquently defend half-blood blues, unable to counter-debate strongly. now that i have finally taken the chance to read the novel, i feel so disappointed it didn't go further in last year's program. i feel that under a different panelist, the strengths and opportunities of edugyan's book could have reached so many more people.

sorry for the rambling tangent -- i love canada reads, and as i was so engrossed in reading half-blood blues, i felt sad that it was not better positioned last year and was imagining what could have been. ( )
  DawsonOakes | Feb 1, 2015 |
Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan is Sid Griffiths' story. He's an African American from Baltimore who once was a sax player in the Hot Time Swingers, a band active with the jazz scene in 1930's Berlin. Sid, along with Chip, a guitarist and fellow American, Hieronymous Falk, a twenty year old half German, half African trumpeter, and Paul Bitterstein, a Jewish piano player, were not in a good place due to the rise of the Nazis and their master-race philosophy. In one scene the band members were hiding indoors listening to the sounds of breaking glass as Kristallnacht occurred in the streets outside.

Although any story about a jazz band has to be about the music scene and any story about blacks and Jews in Berlin and Paris during World War II has to be about racism, the most interesting story in this novel is of jealousy and friendship, of decent talent and an extraordinary gift, and of loyalty and guilt. As I said before, this is Sid's story. Hieronymous Falk is not just a good trumpeter, he plays with brilliant sensitivity and emotion. Sid will never be that good, but Hiero has the ability to make Sid better. Sid responds as any human would, with both envy and gratitude. Here is how Sid's opinion changes as he describes Hiero's music (this quote is translated from an audio book, so it may not be perfect):

But then I began to hear, like a pinprick on the air. It was that soft. The voice of a hummingbird singing at a pitch and speed almost beyond hearing. It wasn't like nothing I'd ever heard before.

The kid come in at a strange angle, made the notes glitter like crystal. Pausing, he took a huge breath. Started playing an ear splitting scale that drawn out the invisible scale he just played. The rest of us come in behind him and I tell ya. It ain't took but a minute more for me to understand just what kind of a player this kid was.

He sounded broody, slow, holding the notes way longer than seemed sane. Music should have sounded something like a ship's horn carrying across water: hard, bright, clear. The kid, Hell, he made it muddy, passing his notes not only overseas, but through soil, too. Sounded rich, which might have been fine for an older game, but felt fake from him.

The slow dialog between him and us had a sorta preacher, choir feel to it. There was no grace. His was the voice of a country preacher too green to convince the flock. He talked against us, like he beggin us to listen. He wailed. He moaned. He pleaded and seethed. He dragged every damn feeling out that trumpet but hate, a sorta naked, pathetic way of playing like he done flipped the whole thing inside out, its nerves flailing in the air. He bent the notes, slurred them in a way made us play harder against him. And the more we disagreed the stronger he pleaded. But his pleading ain't never asked for nothing, just seemed to be there for his own damn sake. In a weird way, he sounded both old and like he touching the trumpet for the very first time.

I hated it.

Nazi politics and jazz music provide the color to this great novel, but its real depth is found in the humanity of its characters.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions ( )
  SteveLindahl | Nov 22, 2014 |
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. ( )
1 vote 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 |
Showing 1-5 of 53 (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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