Half-Blood Blues: Book summary and reviews of Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

Half-Blood Blues

A Novel

By Esi Edugyan

Half-Blood Blues
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  • Published in USA  Feb 2012,
    336 pages.

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About this book

Book Summary

Winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize
Man Booker Prize Finalist 2011
Shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction

Berlin, 1939
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 twenty 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 reader 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.

Paperback original

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. While the rarely explored subject adds to the book's allure, what stands out most is its cadenced narration and slangy dialogue, as conversations, both spoken and unspoken, snap, sizzle, and slide off the page." - Publishers Weekly

"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)

"Ingenious." - The Daily Telegraph (London)

"Destined to win a wide audience… Deftly paced in incident and tone, moving from scenes of snappy dialogue, in which band members squabble and banter humorously, to tense, atmospheric passages of description… Edugyan makes fresh tracks in this richly-imagined story… Half-Blood Blues itself represent a kind of flowering - that of a gifted storyteller." - The Toronto Star

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Reader Reviews

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Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Kathleen Z. (oxford, mi)
Music is a language we all understand
Casablanca comes to mind, most specifically the last paragraph:

"Turn it", Thomas said, without smiling. "Play it again."

In the book the romance, is the love of music, which Hiero and Sid share, and like the song, "As Time Goes By" from the movie - there is some jealousy involved.

And in the end Thomas says to Sid, "I see you like it was fifty years ago. Exactly like that."

Must have been a favorite movie of Esi's. The banter between the characters along with the very descriptive writing is what makes this book.

No scriptwriters needed for the movie.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Cathy R. (Scottsdale, AZ)
You gotta like jazz
I had a hard time with this book. Maybe it's because I have read so much on this period or maybe because I'm not a strong jazz lover. It ebbed and flowed but definitely worth reading.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Mary S. (Bow, NH)
I love the blues - this book...meh
The dialogue in Half-Blood Blues is what makes the book worth reading. The story had ebbs and flows, making the book a bit tedious a some points, but slogging through those low points was rewarded by the high points. Throughout it is the dialogue and the capture of the times, reflected through the eyes of African-American jazz players, that provides the most enjoyment.

For people who enjoy historical fiction, this will give you a new look at Germany and France at the beginning of WWII.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Donna C. (Chandler, AZ)
Superb
As a lifelong blues/jazz fan I couldn't wait to read this book after I read about it over a month ago. It was so well worth the wait! What a terrific book. Edugyan captures the tone, rhythm and feel of the characters, their dialog and narrative. And he creates a real sense of time and place, particularly the episodes that take place in Nazi Germany. Even so you can really feel the contrasting atmospheres of fear (of the Nazis) and freedom (of the music). This book superbly combines the worlds of music, history, mystery and literary fiction. I highly recommend "Half-Blood Blues". It is well written, original and enjoyable with memorable characters.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Carol J. (Isle, MN)
Jazz in the time of Hitler
What an enlightening book regarding a topic that is rarely discussed. Edugyan provides an interesting insight to the world on Berlin and Paris in 1939-1940. What is one's life like if you are black and a jazz musician, both of which were verboten in that time. How does one behave when just who you are puts at risk. How do you treat your friends, who also put your life at risk?

The style of the book, with the jazz slang, deprivation during their time in Berlin and Paris, and the pervasive fear made for slow reading at times, but did succeed in putting you in the time.

This would be an interesting book club book, could generate and interesting discussion.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Janice C. (Hayward, CA)
HalfBlood Blues
I found myself really drawn to this book in the first few chapters. It was a little slow at times. Edugyan is a passionate writer. It was very interesting reading about musicians during this era. I was drawn more to the music aspect than the characters. The ending was a little disappointing. Would I recommend it to my Book Club? I never gave much thought to Afro-Germans during the Nazi takeover of Paris, this book prompted me to do a little research. I liked the jive kind of language, it made me feel more connected to the characters.

...7 more reader reviews

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Esi Edugyan has a Masters in Writing from Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, including Best New American Voices 2003 and Revival: An Anthology of Black Canadian Writing (2006).

Her debut novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, was published internationally. It was nominated for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, was a More Book Lust selection, and was chosen by the New York Public Library as one of 2004's Books to Remember.

Edugyan has held fellowships in the US, Scotland, Iceland, Germany, Hungary, Finland, Spain and Belgium. She has taught creative writing at both Johns Hopkins University and the University of Victoria.

She currently lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

Visit her online at www.esiedugyan.com.

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