The Hot Time Swingers, a popular jazz band, has been forbidden to play by the Nazis. Their young trumpet-player, Hieronymus Falk, declared a musical genius by none other than Louis Armstrong, is arrested in a Paris café. He is never heard from again. He was 20 years old, a German citizen. And he was black.
Berlin, 1952. Falk is a jazz legend. Hot Time Swingers band members Sid Griffiths and Chip Jones, both African Americans from Baltimore, have appeared in a documentary about Falk. When they are invited to attend the film’s premier, Sid’s role in Falk’s fate will be questioned and the two old musicians set off on a surprising and strange journey.
From the smoky bars of pre-war Berlin to the salons of Paris, Sid leads the listener through a fascinating, little-known world as he describes the friendships, love affairs, and treacheries that led to Falk’s incarceration in Sachsenhausen.
Half-Blood Blues is a story about music and race, love and loyalty, and the sacrifices we ask of ourselves, and demand of others, in the name of art.
©2011 Esi Edugyan (P)2012 WF Howes Ltd
"Unforgettable… Brilliantly conceived, gorgeously executed. It’s a work that promises to lead black literature in a whole new direction." (The Globe and Mail, Toronto)
"A superbly atmospheric prologue kick-starts a thrilling story about truth and betrayal…. [A] brilliantly fast-moving novel." (The Times, London)
"Shines with knowledge, emotional insight, and historical revisionism…Truly extraordinary in its evocation of time and place, its shimmering jazz vernacular, its pitch-perfect male banter and its period slang." (The Independent, London)
I would recommend this book to friends with an open mind. I don't think this is a book that mainstream readers would seek out, but it was worth reading!
Kyle Riley's performance brought the story to life. I really felt like I could see these men and the voices that they had (via Kyle) helped to shape that visual picture.
By the last half of the book, I was looking forward to driving somewhere so I could find out how it would end!
The dialect, names and slang terms were sometimes a little hard to follow.
I loved this book. The only part that I thought fell a little flat was the ending. Throughout the rest of the book, I was hooked. The language and writing were fantastic. I listened to this as an audiobook, and I liked the narrator and the way that added to the experience. It was a little hard to pick up on the dialogue in the beginning, but I caught on to it. The banter between the musicians and the dialect they used had a really authentic feel to it. Also, the author's descriptions were fantastic. I especially liked the way she could describe music. Usually indefinite nouns like music or love or peace are so hard for an author to describe. But she does it really well. For example, the first time Sid and Chip play with Hieronymus Falk:
"The kid nodded. He begun to tease air through the brass. At first we all just stood there with our axes at the ready, staring at him. Nothing happened. I glanced at Chip, shook my head. But then I begun to hear, like a pinprick on the air--it was that subtle--the voice of a hummingbird singing at a pitch and speed almost beyond hearing. Wasn't like nothing I ever heard before. The kid come in at a strange angle, made the notes glitter like crystal. Pausing, he took a huge breath, started playing a ear-splitting scale that drawn out the invisible phrase he'd just played."
Sid is interesting because he says he hates Falk's playing. But he is partly motivated by jealousy for Falk, so the statement is suspicious. I think Sid is a fantastic and interesting character. As the narrator of the story, one has to wonder how what he tells us is colored through his narration. But it surely seems like he has been "shafted" by his friend Chip many times in his life. It really seems for a while like they won't remain friends, but the book shows us a life long friendship that is worth all the ups and downs.
One question I have about Chip is WHY he actually did say all those damning things about Sid during the Hieronymus Falk ceremony late in their life. Are we to believe that Chip was correct and that Sid is totally unreliable as a narrator? OR is it that Chip screwed Sid over again, like when they were kids? This is a great question, I think, and worthy of much discussion.
Here is an interesting analysis of the book's structure that I read online
"What I did enjoy very much was how the characterization and character arcs seemed to mimic the band and the playing of jazz itself: the lead trumpet player, "the kid" Hiero, being the star player whom we saw take the spotlight only occasionally, but in important and plot-moving ways; and the rhythm section - Chip and Sid (drums and bass) - anchoring the narrative in both timelines. Sid's feelings towards Hiero vacillated through a lens of jealousy and admiration and fear and guilt, and as the least accomplished musician and the narrator, this both held the story together and kept it moving more or less on pace plus set up much of the tension between all of the rest of the characters. That was an uber-clever structure."
So overall the kind of book I like where I am engaged, challenged, and love the language.
Half Blood Blues is brilliantly told and brilliantly read. It's fascinating that it is told in the first person by a man, but written by a woman. I don;'t remember reading another such juxtiposition of the sexes.
Esi Edugyan tells us an epic story switching back and forth 60 years from the 1930s to the the 1990s, encompassing the demonic Nazi era in both Germany and France and peopled by very real black and white musicians caught up in the horror.
Kyle Riley creates an accent, presumably Baltimorian black, that renders well the speech of the narrator, Syd, as well as all the other varied voices of Edugyan's many characters.
All in all a great experience.
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