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Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

Half-Blood Blues (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Esi Edugyan

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981678,763 (3.72)1 / 200
Title:Half-Blood Blues
Authors:Esi Edugyan
Info:Thomas Allen Publishers (2011), Edition: later printing, Paperback, 304 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Giller Prize winner, Canadian literature

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 (66)  French (1)  All (67)
Showing 1-5 of 66 (next | show all)
Tormented, jealous and grief stricken. Sid Griffiths is an ordinary person caught up in an extraordinary time with the freakishly talented Hieronymus Falk. Jazz players in the same band, Hiero is "the kid", a genius everyone except Sid recognises, until the chasm between their talents becomes blindingly obvious.

This story flicks between Germany and Paris in 1939/40 and Europe in 1994. It's a heart tearing story of selfish betrayals mixed with real tenderness. These complicated people are so alive, and it is so well written you can almost hear the soulful music blaring from the kids horn, the crunch of the Boots marching past, of their terror.

Sid's horrible secret stays so until a climactic finale. I actually gasped when I learnt what his desperation to be part of something real, something beautiful, something that will live forever drives him to do.

Great book, recommended for anyone.


Armstrong’s voice got real gravelly, real deep and soft, like a pelt carpet. ‘There is a whole lot of talents, Sid. You a mighty fine rhythm boy.’
‘But I ain’t got the stuff.’
‘You know what you got. Ain’t no one tell you otherwise.’
I shook my head in disgust.
‘It don’t matter much bout all that anyway,’ Armstrong added. ‘You think it do, but it don’t. A man ain’t just his one talent. Little Louis needs you. And Jones look to you like you his brother. You got the talent of making others your kin, your blood. But music, well it’s different. I reckon it got its own worth. But it ain’t a man’s whole life.’

Aw, hell, Louis, I thought. Ain’t nothin else I want ( )
  mattclark | Oct 14, 2017 |
The story of the Jews in the Holocaust is an all too familiar and terrible one. In 'Half-Blood Blues', Esi Edugyan tells the story of a lesser known but equally persecuted people. The Hot Time Swingers was a jazz band in Germany in the 1930's. The members of the band - African Americans from Baltimore, Germans, Jews and a mixed race (mischling) German bond over their love of Jazz. As this type of music becomes banned in Germany, it becomes dangerous for the musicians to remain there. One by one, they are arrested or abandon the band for their own safety. The two Americans and the young black German escape to Paris where they have the opportunity to meet and record music with the great Louis Armstrong. He immediately recognizes the genius of Hiero, the 19 year old trumpet player. When the invasion of Paris becomes imminent, the three must find a way to escape.

This book travels back and forth between present-day Baltimore, where Sid and Chip now reside. Hiero's music exists only in a 3 1/2 minute recording. It is so brilliant that he has a large group of followers. A documentary is made and Sid and Chip travel back to Europe for the premiere.

The book is told through the eyes of Sid. Sid is a talented musician - not an inspired one. Against the backdrop of Europe in the '30's and early '40's he relates the story of the band, their struggles, envy, jealousy, fear and eventually, possibly, redemption.

Hot Blood Blues was shortlisted for nearly every major book award - eventually taking home the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize. Well deserved! ( )
  EvelynBernard | Oct 5, 2017 |
It is such a terrible time. It is war time in Germany, Poland and Paris. It is a time when one man ruled as dictator. It is his, Hitler's, decision to destroy certain groups of people. In "Half-Blood Blues" by Esi Edugyan, a German American band is the focus. We meet guys who love Jazz along with their lady friend, Delilah. There are many hardships. Their race becomes a thing of danger. One in the group, Chip, is German and Black. Sid is Black, etc. All of a sudden ethnicity becomes an intricate thing of beauty, and it is realized race mixtures are as different as cake batters. If you are open to racial harmony, you will see the novel in one way. If not, you will see it in another way. It is your call, your decision.

Within the pages, there is the one and only Louis Armstrong. Ultimately, he will leave Europe and go back to America because of the fast movement of troops throughout Europe. However, he does not leave before trying to make a disc or record with the group. Louis Armstrong becomes more than just a famous face and name. He becomes a man born with a special talent to hear who can play an instrument and who is off and going down another path where the group does not want or need to go. Louis Armstrong's special love for one race of people is unforgettable. Their kindness is always remembered by him. To keep them ever in his mind he eats their food and wears their symbolic jewelry.

It is a wonderful Historical novel about friendship, music, romance, jealousy and unfortunately, brutality. There are men who act as gentle as a woman. One friend will not leave another friend while he is near death's door. There is also the woman, Delilah called Lilah. She finds a hiding place for the guys when it is most needed. In order to leave the country, they need specific papers. She fights to get them. Each one in the band knows she will never leave Louis Armstrong. She becomes like Ruth with Naomi. She will follow him wherever he goes.

All of these people whether they must go to a concentration camp or hear their racial name defamed or just totally disappear due to the men in boots show war time too can become a time of growth and bonds between men and women can deepen while their country is under siege. In the end, love is as powerful as water. It can overcome evil.

If I had to stay on a deserted island and needed to take only a few books, this is one I would take with me. I feel each character is layered. I only had time to peel back one layer. It is also another view of World War II. It is seen through the eyes of those who love music, in this case, Jazz. ( )
  Tea58 | Sep 20, 2017 |
Wonderful audio book, worth reading for the metaphors alone. ( )
  Eye_Gee | May 8, 2017 |
I didn't really get into this story of a group of jazz musicians in Berlin and Paris in the lead-up and the first year of the World War II. I could see it was well written and had interestingly flawed characters, but Sid started to annoy me enough to keep a distance and Hiero, seen through Sid, didn't really come to life as a human being. ( )
  mari_reads | Mar 2, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 66 (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.

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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