Half-Blood Blues: A Novel

by Esi Edugyan

Dundurn | August 25, 2011 | Trade Paperback

Half-Blood Blues: A Novel is rated 3.5455 out of 5 by 11.

Winner of the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize, short-listed for the 2011 Governor General''s Award for Fiction

Paris, 1940.  A brilliant jazz musician, Hiero, is arrested by the Nazis and never heard from again.  He is twenty years old.  He is a German citizen.  And he is black.

Fifty years later, his friend and fellow musician, Sid, must relive that unforgettable time, revealing the friendships, love affairs and treacheries that sealed Hiero''s fate. From the smoky bars of pre-war Berlin to the salons of Paris - where the legendary Louis Armstrong makes an appearance - Sid, with his distinctive and rhythmic German-American slang, leads the reader through a fascinating world alive with passion, music and the spirit of the resistance. Half-Blood Blues, the second novel by an exceptionally talented young writer, is an entrancing, electric story about jazz, race, love and loyalty, and the sacrifices we ask of ourselves, and demand of others, in the name of art.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 304 pages, 8.5 × 5.5 × 0.88 in

Published: August 25, 2011

Publisher: Dundurn

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0887627412

ISBN - 13: 9780887627415

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Reviews

Rated 3 out of 5 by from Was okay Half Blood Blues was recommended to me by a good friend so I really wanted to like it. It wasn't bad, but it didn't really grab me. I didn't mind putting it down and I wasn't itching to get back to it. The story is narrated by Sid, a mediocre bass player in a jazz band where the other players have a great bit more talent than he does. They are a mixed race band playing the new jazz clubs in 1940s Germany, just before the war. Sid is from Baltimore and speaks with an accent that sometimes detracts from the story. I didn't know all the slang being used which didn't help either. His jealousy of a new band member, a very young and brilliant new horn player, is what drives the story forward. Race is a big theme of this story, as is love, jealousy, friendship and forgiveness.
Date published: 2013-02-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Half-Blood Blues: Jazz and a Hiero: A Review from The Bibliotaphe Closet I could say I finished this “gem” of a book, but to call it that would do it an injustice. This jazzy, soulful novel isn’t a gem; it’s a whole lot of gems in a truckload—a mine. Hell, I wept at key parts (that if you’ve read it, will know exactly which parts I’m referring to) and I’m no crying type…well, not really. I usually come at a book as a ruthless editor and a fair, but brutally honest, sometimes brash reviewer. But this Giller beauty has earned every penny and glory worth its acclaimed prize.It’s a little rough at the beginning, and by that, I don’t mean poor in writing, but brittle in narrative that forces you as the reader to realize how you read, think, and speak. The dialogue, like the story, grows on you until our very thoughts mimic its language and tone.I was easily and unnoticeably transported to pre-war Berlin, but not just any Berlin, but its underbelly: its hot spots, its seedy bars, its jazz-crooning, smooth-wiling ways. Its nightlife—no, the potency of its life—its jazz as a tangible, organic thing.While reading, I wished I could literally “hear” the music being played, the essence of it reverberating off the pages. As the band of brothers, these soulful jazz creators, worshipped Louis Armstrong, jazz, and the life of jazz itself, I, too, became infatuated with its dinginess, its raw energy, its powerful hypnosis on the band, their listeners, and on the readers of the novel. The heart of “real” jazz seemed to be expressed as an impromptu blending, a magic that cannot be duplicated, or created by imitation, perfection, or musical scores—but could be invoked by the players themselves in their individual talent, their feel and unit as a group, and their own layers of interpretation and surprise. Jazz, the music, a fundamental thread in the book, by that definition, spoke of the players’ unstructured, chaotic, and unexpected lives. Like the band of men, Paul, Fritz, Sid, Chip, Hiero Falk—the joy, melancholy, suffering, pain, and redemption they experience in the life force of the music they play and vice versa. What is achingly beautiful about this book is how interconnected the characters are to jazz, the music, jazz, the life, their compulsion for it, their gifts in creating it, their arduous love and respect toward it—and to each other. But, it’s not just about jazz. It’s also a book about territory, war, “racial cleansing.” The music, too, is an ostracized, rebellious sibling to its classical counterparts that goes under attack. The very freedom of creativity, art, music, and brotherhood is under fire. To read the rest of my review, you may visit my blog, The Bibliotaphe's Closet: http://zaraalexis.wordpress.com/2012/01/30/half-blood-blues-jazz-and-a-hiero/
Date published: 2012-09-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Had trouble rating this one (and writing a review!) 3.25 stars Most of this book is set in 1939 and 1940 in Germany and France. It follows a group of boys trying to make a jazz record. The book does switch back and forth to 1992, as two of those “boys” are making their way to Poland to find one who had gone missing during the war. Not a very good summary, but then, I wasn't all that excited about the book, so am having a hard time coming up with a summary (and overall review!). I've been waffling between 3 stars (ok) and 3.5 (good). 3.5 because mostly it seemed interesting while I was reading, but as soon as I put it down again, I had no interest in picking it back up. Ok, so it's not a very helpful review...
Date published: 2012-08-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very good Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues follows the narrator, bassist Sidney (Sid) Griffiths, in Berlin and Paris at the beginning of WW II (1939 – 40) and in the early 1990s when he and his friend — drummer Chip Jones — travel to Poland to meet their long-lost band mate, trumpeter Hieronymous (Hiero) Falk. Half-Blood Blues is about the pursuit of art in the miasma of racial bigotry, war, friendship, love, loyalty, jealousy, fear, and betrayal. Sid, a mediocre bass player, is carried along in the wake of a talented jazz band; but, when Hiero joins the band, Sid becomes resentful of the young man’s genius. Sid is also jealous of the attention that his love-interest gives to Hiero (it is a sisterly love, but Sid is naive and insecure). In the sections dealing with the past (1939-40) Sid’s narration is the melody, and the racial tensions of the burgeoning war pulse with a rhythm that drives the story forward. When Sid is an elderly man (1992) his narration weaves hints of a betrayal that occurred in the past (selfish treachery, but not designed to cause the tragedy that ensues), which becomes clearer as the novel progresses. Sid almost gained significance in the history of jazz music, but he is haunted by an incident that took place during the war-torn years. Esi Edugyan writes wonderfully, with many vivid portrayals of jazz music, yet some passages that mingled rough vernacular and smooth narration didn’t work for me. But the novel, as a whole, is a wonderful read. Recommended.
Date published: 2012-06-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Cool Jazz Story Loved sitting in my ramblin old chair listening to old Louis Armstrong and reading about these amazing jazz musicians and their struggle and love for their music. Thought this was an amazing book, took me on a journey through a world I was unfamiliar with but am very intrigued by now.
Date published: 2012-05-24
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Hated it! I don't understand all the hype around this book. I found it totally boring and couldn't finish it. I'm so sick of buying books that are rated as #1 bestsellers to find they are really awful. Where can I find honest reviews?
Date published: 2012-04-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An Emotional Story Esi Edugyan's "Half-Blood Blues” is a period story of the jazz culture with colourful scenes of jamming sessions, drinking and bickering among a mixed-race ensemble called the Hot-Time Swingers. The novel interweaves two chronologically distinct storylines one during the turmoil of the 1940’s Europe and the other decades later. We see how old friends struggle to reconcile with a past that strongly influenced their future and their contribution to the music world, a recap of their personal side and their creativeness as artists. At the center is Sidney “Sid” Griffiths, an African American bass player who performed with the Swingers in Berlin with his band mates and childhood friends, Chip C. Jones a rather tasty homophone and Hieronymus “Hiero” Falk, a “mischling” born in Germany with roots stemming from Africa. “Sid” is the narrator who takes us back and forth in time while he recounts his memories of events. It all starts in 1940 Berlin when the group is forced to flee Germany and is rumoured to have had a vague offer to play with Louis Armstrong. Griffiths and his band mates escape to Paris where they discover a rapidly changing world, one that is gradually succumbing to Nazi power and the racial hatred that follows. Their lives are in constant fear with little hope on the horizon, the trio is broken up when Hiero is arrested and disappears, only to leave a few scattered recordings of their sessions together.… The second storyline brings us to 1992 as we follow Sid and Chip’s journey back to Europe in search of Hiero hoping to rekindle the bond they had and come to peace with their past. This is an emotional story with rich and well-drawn characters. The plot is powerful and thought-provoking as it deals with sensitive issues over a span of several decades. The beautifully energetic narrative captures the rhythmic patois of the jazz musicians and has created a unique voice for its narrator. At first I found it difficult to follow, not being familiar with the lingo, however, once I overcame my handicap and addressed it as a new challenge I fell right into the beat and enjoyed every remaining page, it added another dimension to a very interesting story. Congratulations Ms. Edugyan for winning the Scotia Bank Giller prize for 2011.
Date published: 2012-03-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disapointing (warning--this review contains a spoiler) After all the hype about the author and the book, I expected so much more. There were moments of greatness in the story, but like the expectations created by the hype about the author and book, the expectations from these "great" moments were not met. It took a long time to "get into" the story, and I did find the dialect, while obviously accurate with regard to urban Black America, a hindrance to the story rather than adding verisimilitude since most of the story takes place in war-time Germany and France. Why the emphasis on the American dialect and not the others? The ending of this book is such a let down that it made me angry. All the angst, all the self-deprecation, and all of our disgust at the protagonist is expected to be wiped away because his "victim" leaves the room and comes back in ready to forgive? Sorry, I don't buy it. Far too much has gone on. Attention must be paid to the suffering of the young man. Much more must be done to achieve a resolution and restitution. I really wanted to like this book. Also, Edugyan's short story titled "The Return" in the Globe and Mail was another example of an "unfinished" work. While a reader can expect to pick up subtleties, the subtleties in this story were deeply, deeply, hidden if they were there at all. Too bad. I had such high hopes.
Date published: 2012-03-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting Story Line I enjoyed this book, although I have to say it took a while to really get in to it. The story line was very interesting, it really had all my different emotions going....sad, angry, excited. It is a good story and well deserving of it's award.
Date published: 2012-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from AMAZING This booked was absolutely amazing. I couldn't put it down once I started. It will make out you laugh outloud as well as cry.
Date published: 2012-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Heart wrenching Half Blood Blues is a heart wrenching story of survival, betrayal and how the choices we make affect us for the rest of our life. Half Blood Blues, along with The Sisters Brothers are two books that have received a lot of buzz this award season. Both have received short list nominations for the Giller and Booker prizes. It doesn't get much better than that. In the interest of full disclosure I have to say that I read The Sisters Brothers earlier this year and fully enjoyed it. And as a result I went into Half Blood Blues, unsure if it could match it the quality and creativty. Now I can honestly say I don't know which book I prefer more. They're both so good! But I'm getting off topic. Half Blood Blues is one of those books that feels so gritty and raw with emotion that you become deeply attached to the characters and to the story. They consume you. It's authentic and dark. There are no “good guys” or “villians” - characters are whole people and Edugyan doesn't shy away from showcasing darker side of human nature. The most brilliant example of this is Sidney Griffith. In my opinion Sid is one of those great literary characters that only come around every now and again. He's not perfect man. Far from it – I could write a list a mile long of all the things he's done or characteristics he should change. But he's someone you connect with, someone you can relate to. Despite all his flaws, you find yourself pulling for him. It was almost a protective feeling I had for Sid – like I wanted to shield him from the world and tell him it was going to be ok from here on out, but at the same time I also knew he was going to be okay. Writing and characters aside, however, the most amazing part of this book is the ending. And I don't just mean that it is a well put together ending. When I got near the end of this book I didn't want to know what happened. Without giving too much away, there comes a point where Sid is presented with a particular choice. Both options have their benefits but both also have their consequences. Some many argue strongly for one side or another but really it's a choice that could go either way. I found there was a part of me that didn't want to know what Sid chose. Whatever choice he would end up making would defining who he was as a person and I almost didn't want to know, I wanted it to be ambiguous, because in real life isn't always going to be ambiguous? I still think he chose well and Edugyan ended on a strong note, but there's still that little part of me that wishes I had stopped reading right before reaching the end. Half Blood Blues blew me away. It is a beautifully written book - Esi Edugyan writes with a strong voice and forms amazing, complex characters. The story broke my heart and by the end of it all it felt like I had lived it right along with them. It's an amazing read, more than worthy of all the attention and recognition it's been receiving. This and other reviews at Christa's Hooked on Books - http://christashookedonbooks.blogspot.com
Date published: 2011-11-09

– More About This Product –

Half-Blood Blues: A Novel

by Esi Edugyan

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 304 pages, 8.5 × 5.5 × 0.88 in

Published: August 25, 2011

Publisher: Dundurn

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0887627412

ISBN - 13: 9780887627415

From the Publisher

Winner of the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize, short-listed for the 2011 Governor General''s Award for Fiction

Paris, 1940.  A brilliant jazz musician, Hiero, is arrested by the Nazis and never heard from again.  He is twenty years old.  He is a German citizen.  And he is black.

Fifty years later, his friend and fellow musician, Sid, must relive that unforgettable time, revealing the friendships, love affairs and treacheries that sealed Hiero''s fate. From the smoky bars of pre-war Berlin to the salons of Paris - where the legendary Louis Armstrong makes an appearance - Sid, with his distinctive and rhythmic German-American slang, leads the reader through a fascinating world alive with passion, music and the spirit of the resistance. Half-Blood Blues, the second novel by an exceptionally talented young writer, is an entrancing, electric story about jazz, race, love and loyalty, and the sacrifices we ask of ourselves, and demand of others, in the name of art.

About the Author

Esi Edugyan has degrees from the University of Victoria and Johns Hopkins University.  Her work has appeared in several anthologies, including Best New American Voices 2003.  Her debut novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, was published internationally to critical acclaim. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia.  Please visit www.esiedugyan.com for more information.

Editorial Reviews

...Edugyan draws us into the story with brilliant cadence to her writing. Like a drummer counting down the beat for the band, Edugyan creates a rhythm in her dialogue that sings.
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