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Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
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Half-Blood Blues (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Esi Edugyan

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909619,684 (3.74)1 / 197
Member:roxyrolla
Title:Half-Blood Blues
Authors:Esi Edugyan
Info:Thomas Allen (2011), Edition: later printing, Paperback, 304 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:None

Work details

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan (2011)

  1. 30
    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 (60)  French (1)  All (61)
Showing 1-5 of 60 (next | show all)
Two black jazz musicians from Baltimore, Chip and Sid, narrowly escape Berlin in 1939 only to find their dreams come true in meeting up with Louis Armstrong in Paris, but also their nightmares as they watch the Nazis march into the city even as they are struggling to record their finest disc, “Half-Blood Blues”. In the aftermath of the occupation, Sid does something that will haunt him all his remaining days, but which he will not reveal until fifty years later at the end of a quest of reconciliation in Poland.

Esi Edugyan’s story is rich with history and horror. Jazz greats file past and interact with the characters. And the tension between individual glory, even if that glory is just a jazz record, and conscience is achingly portrayed.

The prose is saturated in what passes for early 20th century Baltimore dialect. But while that at first locates and brings the characters to life, it later loses its effectiveness and starts to seem like affect. It is unclear why they speak in this apparent dialect even in German (Chip and Sid are fluent). And other characters, such as Delilah and Hiero, sound remarkably similar to Chip and Sid. But that is part of a more general concern in that we don’t really get to know any of these characters in any depth. The structure of the crisis and its milieu is adequately portrayed but Sid’s critical action is hard to judge given that we don’t really have a strong sense of him. However, maybe these are minor complaints. Because in general I did enjoy the story and I was, throughout, fascinated to learn about these black musicians in those dark days.

Gently recommended. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Nov 19, 2016 |
Never got used to the voice of the first person narration -- lots of 'aints' and double negatives. It was a barrier to immersion in the story. The author throws out some placating colorful metaphors -- "he was an ancient old raisin of a man" -- but it's not enough to carry a good book. It was a long slog to the end. The characters weren't particularly interesting, they felt so contrived. This book had too many ideas and didn't know where to focus, so it felt watery and weak. Disappointing. ( )
  TheBookJunky | Apr 22, 2016 |
I picked up this book 'cause the blurbs indicated it was about the underground music and club scene in Germany before WWII, which is something that interests me. However, there isn't really much of that in the book. There's a passing mention of Max Ernst, and mention of some musicians and dancers - but it doesn't really paint a wide picture of that demimonde. Rather, it focuses on the relationship between three jazz musicians, both at that time, and in the 'present' day (1942 and 1992). It actually does a great job of portraying how a group of musicians can form its own tiny world, to the exclusion of everything outside... and the trauma of that world breaking.
The book was not precisely what I expected, but that's not a criticism of it. Actually, it was a far better book that I anticipated. Edugyan has a masterful touch with creating voice - the subtle similarities and differences between how the narrator speaks in the different time periods was impressively well done. The characters of Sid, Chip and Hiero fully come to life, with all their passions and flaws. My only (teeny) criticism is that Delilah, the woman who 'discovers' their band, remains in a sort-of-interstitial position somewhere between being a major character and a minor one. I wanted to know more of her motivations and background.
Still, the book is an incisive exploration of friendships and betrayals.
I'd highly recommend it. I've already ordered Edugyan's previous novel. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
Strong narration and intriguing cast of characters. The beleaguered protagonist Sid provides a tale of the frustrations and exaltation of art- and brilliantly portrays the troubled undercurrents between musicians. The clash of the Nazi-political machine and its cancerous spread across Europe against the idealism of the group’s creative vision create a solid tension and anxiety within the text. Edugyan displays a remarkable talent for dialog, with crisp edgy conversations that the reader can easily fall in step with. The insecurities and egos of the three principal characters- Sid, Chip and Hiero, each seem to be a different side to the artistic spirit. ( )
  Alidawn | Jan 29, 2016 |
I heard alot of praise for this book and looked forward to reading it. Sadly, I was disappointed. It had some good ingredients but just didn't gel for me. I found the characters uninteresting and generally unlikeable. Though the writing is well done, I had difficulty at times with the speech of characters. In some instances it was distracting. Also, I found the ending disappointingly flat. Can't recommend this one. ( )
  jldarden | Jan 6, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 60 (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.
 

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (2)

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.

SERPENT'S TAIL EDITION:
The aftermath of the fall of Paris, 1940. Hieronymus Falk, a rising star on the cabaret scene, was arrested in a cafe and never heard from again. He was twenty years old. He was a German citizen. And he was black.

Fifty years later, Sid, Hieros' bandmate and the only witness that day, is going back to Berlin. Persuaded by his old friend Chip, Sid discovers there's more to the journey than he thought when Chip shares a mysterious letter, bringing to the surface secrets buried since Hieros' fate was settled.

Half Blood Blues weaves the horror of betrayal, the burden of loyalty and the possibility that, if you don't tell your story , someone else might tell if for you. And they just might get it wrong.
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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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