Vy A. (Phoenix, AZ)
Berlin 1939. Paris 1940. Amidst this pre war-time setting, The Half-Time Swingers, a German-American Jazz band forms. This novel is a story of music and friendship and how both can fill men’s souls, especially the black “swingers” who form a bond that lasts a lifetime. It is also the story of a secret that lies hidden with Sid Griffiths for fifty years until he has to face his past at an unexpected reunion.
The relationship between Sid and his childhood Baltimore friend Chip is the basis of the story and their dialogue (banter), in what one review calls German American slang, is delightful to read, filled with witticisms and wisdom. For example, “Ain’t no man can outrun his fate,” or “when the past comes to collect what you owe.”
Author Edugyan also makes great use of figurative language that is fresh and vivid, such as, “...gents with faces as worn as old dish rags,”and “...his booming voice, when he talked, it overwhelmed the air, shoved it aside like oil in a cup of water.”
Jazz lovers will like the touch of Louis Armstrong in the story and history buffs will appreciate yet another perspective of Nazi Germany where jazz has been banned as degenerate music and blacks face their own brand of discrimination. A great title for a good read which I can recommend.
Carolyn L. (Cincinnati, OH)
Jazz, Germans and Being Black
Imagine being in Berlin and then Paris in 1939. Then imagine being a black man who is German and several black Americans all trying to play jazz in these two cities as the war nears. All the Hot Time Swingers (a German American band) wanted to do was play music.
This novel weaves a tale between survival in 1939 and a documentary that was being unveiled in 1992. This novel unwraps the story how a group of jazz musicians had to consider their own lives, the lives of their fellow musicians and surviving an ever growing presence of Nazi's in 1939.
This novel is a peek into a side of pre-WWII that most of us have not considered.
William Y. (Lynchburg, VA)
Half-Blood Blues: A Review
American novels about jazz are few and far between, and even fewer have endured or achieved significant popularity. Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues may never climb to the top of best-seller lists, but her novel might well claim a lasting place among books that deal with jazz, both the music and its players.
Sid Griffiths, bassist with the Hot-Time Swingers, an American group performing in Europe on the eve of World War II, narrates this elegiac tale of lost love and the search for redemption. Spanning the years a 1939 to 1940, and occasionally moving to 1992 for a retrospective look backward, Edugyan sets the novel in Berlin, Paris, and rural Poland. She has Griffiths speak in the black jazz argot of the late 1930s, and although purists might quibble at the accuracy of his dialect, he serves as an engrossing storyteller, sensitive, regretful, and insecure.
In the course of his narration, Griffiths introduces numerous characters, both men (“Jacks” or “gates,” the latter a term for male musicians), and women (“Janes”), but he avoids the racial and gender stereotyping too often found in writing about jazz artists and their lifestyles. Much of the story revolves around Hieronymus Falk, a brilliant young trumpeter who becomes almost legendary thanks to his playing on a recording, seemingly lost, of Half-Blood Blues, cut while Europe collapsed into the flames of war. In fact, some of Edugyan’s best prose occurs in a set piece covering the fall of France in 1940 with its ensuing chaos and the resultant German occupation. Narrator Griffiths never refers to the Germans troops as Nazis, but instead refers to them as “the Boots,” a uniquely accurate term as they march from conquest to conquest.
A fine novel, Half-Blood Blues deserves a wide audience.
Suri F. (Durham, NC)
Unique View, Wonderful Storytelling
What an outstanding book you have helped me discover! The subject of the book, jazz era musicians in Germany and Vichy France at the onset of WWII was one I had never considered before. Nor have I ever read anything before that gave me so much insight into the musical conversation that takes place in improvisation. I only want to know who will do the movie?
Eileen P. (Pittsford, NY)
Marvelous historical fiction
If you are at all interested in jazz, love, or how obsession can cloud your thinking, this book is for you. It is stylistically amazing. Edugyan uses a distinct voice for each of the two time periods the story is set in. And what an amazing story it is. Vivid and moving. It is like a kaleidoscope. As the story progresses little bits of information are revealed that change how the reader sees everything that has goes on before. It would be an outstanding book group selection.
Portia A. (Mount Laurel, NJ)
A really good book
1939 Berlin.. Not a good time to be a Jazz band..Hitler has banned the music as degenerate; the times are getting worse. And their star trumpeter is a young black German. Out of this premise the author has written a brilliant book.
The jargon of the jazz men rings true as does the evocation of the war time. I recommend it.