Half-Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan (2011)

Genre: Historical Fiction
Interest level: 16-adult
Half Blood BluesThis second novel by Vancouver Island writer Edugyan almost wasn’t published – originally accepted by Key Porter Books, its publication was threatened when Key Porter went bankrupt. Thomas Allen picked it up and the book has been shortlisted for three of Canada’s literary awards (including the Giller Prize, which it won), and the Man Booker Prize in the UK. Half-Blood Blues opens in 1940 Paris, where a band of musicians struggles to cut a record under wartime conditions. During a break, the Nazis who hold the city enter the cafe and Hiero, the brilliant black, German trumpet player known as “little Louis” is taken. No one sees him again.
The book is narrated by Sid Griffiths, one of Hiero’s fellow musicians, now elderly and filled with regret and shame. The reason for his disgrace is very slowly unveiled as the setting shifts between 1992 and the early days of the Second World War, where we follow the band members as they make struggle to make music in an increasingly dangerous city. Edugyan delivers punches wrapped in velvet in this beautifully wrought tale of Nazism, jazz, racism, fear and regret. I found myself transported by her descriptions of Parisian cafes, the thrumming of boots on pavestones, the four-four time of footfalls as a single man crosses a street. Other than an over-reliance on the verb “grimace” (noted not by me, but by my spouse as he read this story aloud) her writing is faultless. I’ve read one other Giller nominee for 2011, The Sisters Brothers, and am delighted the jury chose Half-Blood Blues. It’s by far the superior book, and one that will linger.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12010459-half-blood-blues


About Michelle Mallette
I'm just trying to keep track of the books I've read - what I liked and what isn't worth re-reading. My work as a librarian has included youth services so you'll find a wide range of interests from picture books and teen dystopia to adult sci-fi, road trip novels, and nonfiction. Comments and communication is always welcome.

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