Customer Reviews


112 Reviews
5 star:
 (45)
4 star:
 (29)
3 star:
 (19)
2 star:
 (13)
1 star:
 (6)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Gate be in the Groove
Review of the book. I read the 13 longlisted books for the 1011 Man Booker, and this was my favorite; Barnes, the winner, was my second favorite.

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...
Published on October 27, 2011 by las cosas

versus
51 of 61 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Blues medley--a work not completely finished
Interesting book, but awkward and unsatisfying for me at its end. In part the story of two black American jazz musicians and their German colleagues whose music and performing are suppressed by the Nazis in 1939 Berlin. Forced to flee to Paris, the two are joined by a Canadian woman working for Louis Armstrong and an African-German prodigy, Hiero Falk. From that point...
Published on January 2, 2012 by Blue in Washington


‹ Previous | 1 212 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Gate be in the Groove, October 27, 2011
By 
las cosas (Ajijic-San Francisco) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Half Blood Blues (Audio CD)
Review of the book. I read the 13 longlisted books for the 1011 Man Booker, and this was my favorite; Barnes, the winner, was my second favorite.

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. As time goes on in Paris more and more is sacrificed for the sake of this album, which is never properly completed, though an outtake survives and later leads to a documentary film that is a focus of the 1992 parts.

This is not a jazz book, I certainly wouldn't call jazz a central theme of the book. But it contains some of the most lyrical descriptions of jazz playing that I have read. Describing the first time the three played with Louis Armstrong (who is vibrantly described in a short section of the book) the author describes how each of the three enters into and intertwines on the song 'Old Town Wrangler'.

"And then, real late, Armstrong come in.

I was shocked. Ain't no bold brass at all. He just trilled in a breezy, casual way, like he giving some dame a second glance in the street without breaking stride. It was just so calm, so effortlessly itself."

But the element of this book that made it work for me was the narrator. He is the quintessential every man. He discovers that he isn't a great jazz player, and he was willing to do anything, even betrayal, to be great, in the game. After leaving Europe he comes back to Baltimore and lives the non-glamourous life, working for decades as a medical transcriptionist. The book opens as he is invited to the Berlin opening of a documentary film about Heiro, and Chip convinces Skip to attend. The continual self-doubt and frailty of Skip is in contrast to Chip's bombast. But Skip's shortfalls are those of a person who has lived a full life and is aware that he has much to regret. The straight-forward narrative reads like someone being honest with us and himself. But throughout the book he, and the reader, learn that things aren't as they appear, and that our emotions color both our actions and our perceptions. The narrative, and the narrator, feel alive and believable. Even the ever annoying Chip we learn to appreciate, as you appreciate an old family member you never really liked, but have learned to accept.

The book isn't perfect. Calling women "janes" hundreds of times throughout the book wears thin, and someone who spent decades doing transcriptions, even medical transcriptions, is unlikely to write "we et in silence". And the only female character, Delilah, was not very believable or well sketched. But these are minor complaints.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


51 of 61 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Blues medley--a work not completely finished, January 2, 2012
This review is from: Half-Blood Blues: A Novel (Paperback)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Interesting book, but awkward and unsatisfying for me at its end. In part the story of two black American jazz musicians and their German colleagues whose music and performing are suppressed by the Nazis in 1939 Berlin. Forced to flee to Paris, the two are joined by a Canadian woman working for Louis Armstrong and an African-German prodigy, Hiero Falk. From that point forward, the story is focused on the brilliant trumpeter Falk, who disappears into a Nazi concentration camp within a few months of the German invasion of France and is presumed to have perished as a consequence. Falk's short performing and recording career has nevertheless become legendary, and by 1992 he has become sufficiently interesting historically to merit a documentary film which draws on recollections by his former American bandmates, now in their 80s. .

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. Very surprisingly, this never happens. The final chapter of this story just kind of sags into non-closure and the reader really has no clue as to what really happened to the musical wunderkind in the intervening 50 years.

So to sum up, the reader is easily drawn into the interesting scenario set up at the beginning of novel with the promise of knowledgable insight into the music and lives of the musicians under political stress.. There is the expectation that the highly original characters introduced at the beginning will grow into more open and relatable people as the story progresses. This latter development doesn't take place and the book's purpose and ending suffer because of that lack.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Authentic depiction of musicians left adrift in pre-ww2 Europe, October 10, 2011
By 
JCY 500 (Santa Barbara, CA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Half Blood Blues (Audio CD)
The following is a review of the book, nominated for the 2011 UK Man Booker Prize. I had to order the book from Amazon's UK site as it was not yet available in the US.

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. It also concerns itself with the unique status of Hiero, German born, and of African descent, as well as that of the pianist, Paul, a German Jew.

Superbly written, gripping, with the alluring, at times chilling, backdrop of the pre-war years, as well as a believable plot twist, Half-Blood Blues,like the best novels, seems too real to be imagined. Highly recommended.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


24 of 32 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Underwhelmed, January 31, 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Half-Blood Blues (Kindle Edition)
As a writer, I'm admittedly a bit snobbish when it comes to critiquing novels. If I purchase an award-winning book, I expect to be impressed. I want to see elegant prose, interesting characters with whom I can empathize, and a compelling plot. I want an exciting reading experience in which I can't wait to turn the next page. Sadly, Half-Blood Blues did not do that for me.

Although the premise (the experiences of a group of musicians trying to get by in Europe during WWII) is interesting, the pace plodded in many areas. I found myself skipping pages and looking forward to the end of some chapters.

The characters were not quite developed enough to make me care about them. They didn't draw me in so that I wondered what would happen to them next. As an aside, are they jazz musicians, blues musicians, or both? I wasn't clear on that.

My biggest beef is the inconsistent dialogue of Sidney, the narrator. When he speaks to others, he uses the vernacular of an old-time, African-American blues/jazz musician. ("All these years, you been living here. And I ain't had no idea of it.")Yet, when he narrates, his descriptions of his surroundings and events are eloquent and flowery. ("Her voice was pale and splintered, raw, and then it was just a single, stunning wholeness, and closing my eyes I felt like so much was still possible.") This incongruency bugged me so much that I actually rolled my eyes as I was reading. It really ruined the book for me.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant new voice lights up a lesser-known corner of history, February 5, 2012
This review is from: Half-Blood Blues: A Novel (Paperback)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a novel that deftly explores a lesser-known aspect of the Holocaust: the persecution of Blacks and German "Mischlings" in Germany during World War II. It's set against the backdrop of the jazz age, which has been effectively shut down in Berlin because the music is seen as "degenerate." The tale is narrated by Sid, and moves back and forth in time to unfold the story of a talented band and its young trumpet player, Hieronymus Falk. The musicians must struggle against the growing danger of Nazism, and each experiences varying degrees of safety in Europe based on their background and citizenship. One of the most endangered is Hiero, a German of mixed race, who is taken by the Nazis one night and never returns. Sid witnesses this, and a major focus of the novel is Sid's guilt as he grapples with what he did, and did not do, on that night.

The novel gracefully swerves from Paris, to Berlin, to present-day United States, as Sid tells the story both from an immediate perspective, and from the future, looking back. It's written in a rhythmic, lyrical jazz slang that reads almost like poetry. The prose is at times sharp and laugh-out-loud witty, and at other times raw and chilling. After about 30 pages, I was so hooked on the story I found it difficult to put the book down.

Esi Edugyan has that special something that allows the reader to live in the historical context she's created, right along with her wonderfully human, flawed characters. She shines a light on what it would be like to live in a world turned upside-down by hate, and explores what the average person would do when caught in an impossible situation in which death could be around every corner. Through it all the musicians continue to cling to their music, the one thing that still makes sense when nothing else does.

This is not a novel where everything is wrapped up tidy and neat. It leaves you wondering, thinking, and somewhat haunted by the characters and their story. Edugyan is an extraordinarily gifted writer with a very unique style and voice. Very highly recommended.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly Atmospheric, December 27, 2012
By 
This review is from: Half-Blood Blues: A Novel (Paperback)
By the time I finally picked up a copy of Half-Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan's novel already had quite a reputation going for it, the result of having won Canada's Giller prize and having been a short-listed candidate for Britain's Booker Prize. I am happy to report that this story of three black jazz musicians, who find themselves trapped in Paris when Hitler's Nazis overrun the city, largely lives up to that reputation - except for a quibble or two I will mention later.

Sid Griffiths and Chip Jones have known each other forever. The two grew up together in Baltimore where they honed their musical talents to so a high level - Sid on base and Chip on drums - that they would become popular in Berlin as the core of a jazz band they called the Hot-Time Swingers. But they really hit the big time when they add trumpeter Hieronymous Falk to the mix. Hiero, a mixed-race German, is so special a talent that he catches the attention of one Louis Armstrong - who invites the band to join him in Paris to cut a record.

The tough decision to shut things down in Berlin is made easy for the band when Hitler labels jazz as "degenerate music" and bans public performances of it. When the Hot Swingers, including its German members, realize that more than their mere livelihood is at stake, the scramble is on to find papers good enough to get them across the border and on their way to Paris. Little do they know, that Hitler's army is not all that far behind them.

Sid Griffiths, the book's narrator, tells this intriguing story from the perspective of just over fifty years in the future. Sid and Chip are old men living in 1992 Baltimore with plans to attend the imminent Berlin debut of a documentary film honoring the now legendary jazz trumpeter Hiero Falk. Hiero, caught in a Nazi roundup of "undesirables," has not been heard from since the day of his arrest and is presumed to have died in a Nazi death camp. The mystery surrounding his end, details of which only Sid knows, have turned Hiero into the kind of musical legend that only dying young can do for a musician.

But Sid knows the whole story, and even though the truth is still eating at his soul, he does not really expect, or want, to go public with it. Surprise, surprise, Sid.

Esi Edugyan has Sid speak in the vernacular of jazz musicians of the thirties. While this initially slows the reader down, once the speech pattern becomes familiar, this technique gives Half-Blood Blues a feeling of authenticity it otherwise would not have had. This does, however, bring me to my first "quibble." When Sid is thinking out loud for the reader, he sounds nothing like he does in conversation with his friends - even in 1992 - and that is sometimes a little jarring to the reader's ear.

But more importantly, the book's ending does not quite measure up to the hugely dramatic build-up leading to it. Perhaps unrealistically, I was hoping for more. I did very much enjoy this one, and I suspect that I will be thinking about it for a good while, so if you like WWII history from a civilian point-of-view, you will likely love Half-Blood Blues. Esi Edugyan is most certainly a talent to watch.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Of human foibles that will resonate with readers, November 20, 2012
This review is from: Half-Blood Blues: A Novel (Paperback)
Booker shortlisted novel "Half Blood Blues (HBB)" is more, much more than the story of a promising jazz band comprising mostly mixed nationality black musicians including a raw young genius of a saxophonist who found themselves on the wrong side of the ethnic divide in 1939/40 as Europe spiralled into chaos and war during early years of the Nazi era. Though on the cusp of discovery by the legendary Louis Armstrong, this garage jazz band was fated not to have its day in the sun. The reason for that is at the heart of this novel.

Despite its dramatic historical setting, it is the universality of human foibles it tells of that resonates most with readers, eg, of how group dynamics play out in the context of success and failure, or how the interplay of personal, professional and sexual jealousy in the most unlikely - even absurd - of situations tempt cowardice and thwart what is decent and noble in human beings, and lead to actions that bring a lifetime of secret suffering, shame and regret.

HBB doesn't waste time - it begins with an act of cowardice that lead to the arrest of the young musical icon Hiero back in the distant past, then works its way to the 90s when Sid, the band member through whose eyes the story is told, returns with Chip, another fellow member to confront the truth in ways nobody could have expected.

A compelling read. Highly recommended.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Memory, art and ambition, October 1, 2012
This review is from: Half-Blood Blues: A Novel (Paperback)
A gorgeous novel about an interesting place, time and circumstances--black Germans and foreign jazz musicians in Nazi Germany and occupied Paris, including an appearance by Louis Armstrong. The language is rich and compelling. The author took a risk in writing in first-person 1940s African-American vernacular, but it brings an intimacy to the narration and never becomes tiresome. A few passages of dialogue went on a page or two too long, I felt; but that's a minor quibble toward a very satisfying work of fiction.

You can read it as a poignant story of lives and aspirations cut short by totalitarianism and war. But it also raised questions about memory, art and ambition that really hit home.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's about the journey, not the ending, September 17, 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Half Blood Blues (Kindle Edition)
I read this book with no expectations of what it would deliver.
I try to avoid researching a plot or the reviews on a book too much before reading it because I tend to start reading the book with pre-conceived notions of what it will be like.
From the moment I started to read this story, I was transported into the world of Sid and his memories of playing jazz in pre-WWII Germany with his buddies. Every piece of dialogue he spoke, I imagined it clearly in a Baltimore accent. From his slightly innocent view of the world in the late 30's to his interpretation of his present life (in 1992) as an old man, he pulls you into this story. An interesting lead character to follow, you may not always agree with his point of view but if you let yourself go in this novel, you will enjoy every turn of the page. The music, the journey the characters take, the influence of uncontrollable events in the outside world and friendships are what pushes this story along.
For those that have reservations about the ending - I think that it represents how life is sometimes... You don't always get closure. People don't always hash out their past and resolve it. Also, the story wasn't about Hiero so for me, whilst I wanted to know what had happened to him, I understood that it was Sid's journey that was important.
Not every book will be universally loved, but it's the only book in the last year that I have had the confidence to recommend to others.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointment, June 24, 2012
This review is from: Half-Blood Blues: A Novel (Paperback)
I really wanted to like this book as it centers around significant interests in my life such as jazz and Europe on the cusp of WWII. While I found it to be somewhat well-written and containing interesting dialect and vernacular, the story itself went nowhere for me; it never really takes off into something you care about. I lost count of the number of times that Ms. Edugyan prefaces Sidney Griffith's mood and presence with the fore-ordainment of something not feeling right/something is off/something is wrong. In doing so, she fails to let the story work on its own terms and allow the reader to gain his own insight into the characters' psyche. Moreover, the chemistry between the characters, both in Germany and Paris, never really seems honest; there is far too much continuing tension between the two main characters, Sid and Chip, to make you believe they would remain friends over a span of 70 years. Ultimately, it becomes hard to accept the ultimate denouement of the plot.

As one last aside, there is one very significant historical inaccuracy which cannot be excused in a novel that centers around jazz and its history. At an early point in the story, a somewhat negative reference is made to a Columbia Records executive named in the book as "John Hammond, Jr." As anyone with any knowledge of music history knows, the Columbia Records executive in question could only have been John Hammond, Sr. John Hammond, Jr. is the son of John Hammond, Sr. and has had a lengthy and distinguished career as a blues musician.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 212 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

Half-Blood Blues: A Novel
Half-Blood Blues: A Novel by Esi Edugyan (Paperback - February 28, 2012)
$15.00 $12.13
In Stock
Add to cart Add to wishlist
Search these reviews only
Rate and Discover Movies
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.