Sunday, 15 April 2012

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

Started: April 2nd
Finished: April 15th
Pages: 311

When I was in Saskatoon I decided that I was in the mood to read some current "literary" fiction, so I bought two  Booker-nominated novels, both Canadian: Half-Blood Blues and the Sisters Brothers.

I've just finished Half-Blood Blues.  The books that made last year's Booker shortlist were selected for "readabilty". But readable fiction isn't necessarily easy to read.  Half-Blood Blues is wrenching.  Nazis may make the best villains (a la Raiders of the Lost Arc), but there was nothing cartoonish about Berlin in the 40s or the fall of Paris near the beginning of the war.

But overall I enjoyed the book.  The tone is convincing:  you believe that you are hanging out with black jazz musicians, and feel the joys, demands, and disappointments of trying to make great music. And the period and the characters are fascinating.  Who knew that for a black man Hitler's Germany of the 1930s was an easier place to live than the Southern US?

The fact that the author is Canadian shows up only as an Easter egg:  Our Narrator shuts up an inquisitive cab driver by telling him that he's travelling to London Ontario.  No one's curiosity extends to trips to Canada.


  1. I read this book about two months ago. I also enjoyed it, in particular as a glimpse into what it means to be a musician. The obsession that seems to define so many artists. As someone who does not have music as an essential part of her life - I got kicked out of choir in Grade 2 and have never really recovered - I really liked it. I found the ending a bit of a stretch - can anyone really forgive that being betrayed in that way? - but it was a good book.

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  3. Interesting. I wasn't able to edit an awkward sentence after I posted. Anyway, to recap, I didn't interpret the ending as Hiero forgiving Sid. Sid and Chip are marked forever by "Half blood blues" . It helps shape Chip's career and Chip's fame, while Sid turns away from making music altogether after he escapes Europe. Which feels like his way of trying to both atone and escape from himself. But Hiero literally becomes a different person after the war -- he's even known by a different name -- and Chip and Sid can't even imagine what his life has been like for all those years behind the Wall. I got the feeling that the pivotal event of Sid's life ironically wasn't necessarily even that important to the post-war artist version of HIero.

    And I sympathize about grade 2 choir Jennifer. I wasn't thrown out of grade 3 choir, but I was asked to move my lips silently during our performances.