Half Blood Blues – Esi Edugyan

half blood bluesREAD FOR BOOKERTHON

In 1940s France a black cabaret singer disappears. Fifty years on, one of his bandmates, Sid, embarks on a journey to discover Hieronymous’s fate.

✔ “Hiero is an African German and a member of a jazz band in pre-war Berlin.  The Nazis ban their music, and he and his two band mates flee to Paris in 1939 at the outbreak of war. Though in hiding they wander the abandoned streets as a way to pass the time. One night Hiero is arrested and taken to a concentration camp.

The book is narrated by one of the other bandmates, Sid in 1992. His memories of Hiero, of war time and life right up to the book’s present are detailed. His thoughts are pertinent because, as an old man, he discovers an urge to learn of Hiero’s fate. He enlists help from the the third band mate Chip and together they undertake a quest for the truth.

The musings of Sid’s life are ruled by musicality. The effect of the war on music, and freedom of expression and the Nazi’s desire to stamp out anything they regarded as degenerate.

It ain’t fair. Gifts is divided so damn unevenly. Like God just left his damn sack of talents in a ditch somewhere and said, “Go help yourselves, ladies and gents.Them’s that get there first can help themselves to the biggest ones. In every other walk of life, a jack can work to get what he want. but ain’t no amount of toil going get you a lick more talent than you born with. Geniuses ain’t made, brother, they just is. and I just was not.

Going into the book it’s easy to think of this as simply a war story, but it’s much more than that – be prepared for it to take you places you weren’t expecting. Yes the story begins with Hitler’s Germany and no it doesn’t offer detailed passages on the persecution of the Jews, but it does look at another way in which the Nazis harmed people and humanity, via their music. It’s also about failed relationships, redemption and the right to tell your own story. It is told in an authentic slang vernacular, however we found the language sometimes slowed down or stilted our reading pace.

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Published 2011
Serpent’s Tail
352 pages

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