Friday, November 1, 2013

Half-Blood Blues

Half-Blood Blues
Esi Edugyan

Published 2011

First Sentences
"Chip told us not to go out.  Said, don't you boys tempt the devil."
Publisher's Description:
Berlin, 1939. A young, brilliant trumpet-player, Hieronymus, is arrested in a Paris cafe. The star musician was never heard from again. He was twenty years old. He was a German citizen. And he was black.

Fifty years later, Sidney Griffiths, the only witness that day, still refuses to speak of what he saw. When Chip Jones, his friend and fellow band member, comes to visit, recounting the discovery of a strange letter, Sid begins a slow journey towards redemption.

From the smoky bars of pre-war Berlin to the salons of Paris, Sid leads the reader through a fascinating, little-known world, and into the heart of his own guilty conscience.

Half-Blood Blues is an electric, heart-breaking story about music, race, love and loyalty, and the sacrifices we ask of ourselves, and demand of others, in the name of art.
Dear Reader,

This came so close to being a favorite book.  I so wanted it to become a favorite book.  And it was perfect in so many ways - just an excellent story - but, the problem was that in the end, it didn't profoundly affect me as much as my favorites do.  I don't think I'll soon forget it, and I think I will recommend this book to everyone whose ear I can bend in the next few weeks.  So, please don't get me wrong: it's definitely worth reading.  I would even read it again, and that is high praise coming from someone who thinks there are too many books & too little time to read them all, so I don't often reread!

The novel revolves around a WWII-era jazz band, and is narrated by Sid, the group's bassist.  It follows their movements through Europe, from Nazi-occupied Berlin to Nazi-occupied Paris and ultimately to Poland, and also recounts bits of Sid and Chip's childhood in Baltimore.  The band connects with Louis Armstrong, which is for them like meeting a god, and the author's portrayal of Armstrong is wonderful and feels very real.  The book doesn't always move quickly, but it feels as if its pace could be matched by one of their own songs: slow bits mixed up with faster bits, impassioned parts intertwined amongst the everyday middle-of-the-road bridges.

One issue I had with the story was how frustrated I felt that one big issue was never addressed - an interaction which happened between Heiro (a.k.a. the Kid) and Sid.  I felt that it propelled along quite a bit of the action, but was frustrated that the two of them never discussed it.  They sparred over the same woman, and Sid was often jealous of the Kid, and therefore they found ways to hurt each other, but ultimately, I felt they could have just talked things out.  If they'd figured out how each of them felt, and why they were at odds, they probably could have sorted out their differences and avoided all sorts of difficulties.  Ah, I think this is a guy thing... ;)

The characters were all memorable and truly lifelike.  They were flawed men and women - often petty, often misguided - who ultimately looked out for themselves, even when they had the best of intentions.  What they learned was how to also look out for one another.  Throughout the book, their music and their connection of the band was the one constant, and it really held the story together.

I had a difficult time hearing the low register of the audiobook reader, but otherwise he was very good at giving the book its rhythm and feel.  I really enjoyed listening to this book, and like I said, would definitely consider reading it again.  Very well-written.


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