6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A brilliant new voice lights up a lesser-known corner of history,
This review is from: Half-Blood Blues: A Novel (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Program (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.