Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Half-Blood Blues

Finished November 8
Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
This novel is told from the point of view of Sidney Griffiths and moves back and forth between 1992 and 1939-40. In 1939 Sid was part of a group of jazz musicians playing in Berlin. The group consisted of a mix of American and German musicians and had black players, Jewish players and others. Jazz music was becoming more of an unacceptable form of music in Germany, and the black and Jewish players had additional obstacles. One of the group was a young German black man named Hieronymus Falk, an amazing horn player. As the pressure increases, one incident in particular causes the group to try to leave for France and the jazz scene in Paris. For the members that leave Paris provides at first an opportunity and then becomes a waiting room as the Germans move closer. Before they can get out, young Falk is caught and transported to a concentration camp.
In 1992, the discovery of a number of recordings of the group and in particular a recording done in Paris of an original song by Falk has revived interest in the horn player as well as the rest of the group. Sid has moved on in his life, leaving music behind. Chip has made music his career. Chip convinces Sid to participate in a documentary and attend a festival in German, but Sid has regrets of some actions he took back in the day and finds that they still cause him guilt.
This story has it all: love, jealousy, fame and the aftermath of war. I found myself slow to get into the cadence of Sid's voice, but once I did I was held by it. The story and how it all ends is gripping and a great exploration of an experience and time not much talked about: the black man in Europe during World War II, and especially the jazz scene.
And I discover this morning that it has won the Giller too! Even better, as that means more will be likely to read it and experience this great read.