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Half-Blood Blues: A Novel Paperback – Deckle Edge, February 28, 2012
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Top Customer Reviews
A story told in parts alternating between 1992 and 1939/1940, the main characters are three black men who met in Weimar Germany playing together in a jazz group. Weimar life has been described (over described?), and certainly black US jazz musicians are an often glimpsed part of the background. But this book brings that world, or at least the portion inhabited by these three musicians, to the fore. Two of the men (Skip and our narrator, Sid) grew up together in Baltimore and the third (Heiro) was born in Germany. The parts located in 1939/1940 have an incessant and accelerating tension of claustraphobia and boredom mixed with hightened anxiety as the three, joined by other characters, hide out in Berlin and then in Paris as they attempt to evade the nazis (called the Boot). This is obviously not an unusual plot. But what adds a new twist is that the only two characters in any real danger are the blond, jewish, pianist and Hiero, the black trumpeter born in Germany. The US passports held by Skip & Sid served as at least some protection against what was going on, particularly in Paris. As the narrator said, their problem was that "we was officially degenerate".
Because they have a place to stay in both Berlin and Paris, and at least some protection, the tension of the war itself is often a background narrative, not the main story line. And that other story line is the friendships, betrayals and loses that accumulate as they play their jazz, trying to record the perfect take of a riff on a popular nazi song.Read more ›
Much of the novel consists of switchbacks between the 1930s and 1990s which center on relationships between main characters in their flight from the Nazis and the two American musicians returning to Germany for the viewing of the bio-documentary of their friend. These vignettes are mostly in dialogue form, and when they focus on music, they are quite interesting. When they focus on their personal issues and relationships, they lose clarity and meaning (for me at least). The dialogues are the only clue to who the characters really are. There is little or no internal perspective offered by the author.
When it turns out that Hiero Falk actually survived the Nazi death camps and is living in newly democratic, rural Poland, there is the inference that the story of his survival and life since 1945 will be explained and that his complicated relationships with the two American colleagues will come to some resolution.Read more ›
Esi Edugyan's Half Blood Blues is an authentic and moving depiction of a group of jazz musicians left in limbo in pre-WW2 Berlin and Paris. The author has obviously invested a great deal of time in researching the realities of being struggling jazz musicians at that time, as well as the argot unique to the musicians. Her dialog always seems spot on, never forced, never contrived. Unlike some novels set in the milieu of jazz, Ms. Edugyan never strives to appear cool, but instead creates characters with individuated, unique voices. I would also imagine that she has a healthy respect for the arduous process of creating meaningful music.
The novel is basically about a group of struggling musicians, German and American. None of them have achieved commercial success, but are well regarded within their world. One of them, Hieronymus - Hiero - is clearly a superior musician. They record some sides of various tunes they're working on, but none meet the satisfaction of Hiero, who insists that all the acetates be destroyed. Unbeknownst to him, the bass player, recognizing the quality of the recording, secretly withholds one of the records. It's not till many decades later that the recording is widely circulated, giving the remaining musicians a modicum of fame and respect from jazz cognocenti.
The novel is given resonance through its setting - the horrors of the Nazi years are just over the horizon. The novel gains gravitas through depicting the daily privations of the musicians through the prism of the encroaching Nazi dominance, both in Berlin and Paris.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
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. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Jody Darden
Had to read it as a required text for class. Turned out that I really enjoyed it.Published 9 months ago by ScrumdillyIz TheBizznezz
Esi Edugyan's "Half-Blood Blues" is the story of 4 black musicians all of different countries of origins who get caught up in the beginnings of WWII in Berlin & Paris. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Paul L.
An intricately drawn narrative about a time and place, in which the characters dwell within themselves in a blues way. Their blues. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Charlene D. Jones
Found it a hard book to stick with but finally got through !Published 11 months ago by Jane B Malphurs
Jazz musician Sid Griffiths has lived a long life and seen plenty from his pre-WWII days in Berlin. For a black musician, that period was a dangerous time, but the opportunity to... Read morePublished 13 months ago by Debra Purdy Kong