four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
59-July-Aug-2012
By: 
Esi Edugyan
user_rating: 
0

756911.pngCanadian writer Esi Edugyan' second novel, Half-Blood Blues, won the Giller Prize and was a 2011 Man Booker Prize finalist.

The Story: In this jazz-infused novel, a popular Berlin jazz band flees to Paris to escape the Nazis at the onset of World War II. But one harrowing night, the Gestapo raids the club where they're playing, roughs up the band members, and takes away its young Afro-German trumpet player, Hieronymus Falk. People come to believe that he perished in a concentration camp. Decades later Falk, who has become a music legend, is the subject of a documentary. In 1992, two of his former bandmates‚ Chip Jones, the drummer, and Sid Griffiths, the bassist‚ travel to Berlin for the premiere. But before they go, Jones surprises Griffiths with the information that Falk is alive and waiting in Poland to see them.
Picador. 336 pages. $15. ISBN: 9781846687754

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"On the surface, with its colorful scenes of playing, drinking and bickering among a mixed-race ensemble called the Hot-Time Swingers, Edugyan' second novel could be a relatively conventional story of the jazz life. But she tweaks the formula by splitting the book' action between the chaos of 1939 Europe and modern times as old friends struggle to reconcile with a past that shaped them as men and as artists." Chris Barton

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"In its tale of squabbling jazz musicians at the onset of World War II. Half-Blood Blues probes difficult, eternal questions about art and genius. Edugyan' impressive story has truly earned its multiple major-prize nominations, including the Giller Prize for Canada' top novel in English." Jim Higgins

NYTimes Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Griffiths speaks with a black Baltimorean accent, punctuated with a hint of German slang, and even if his voice sounds a little off‚ it doesn't get in the way of Edugyan' nimble storytelling. She tempers the plot' Casablanca-style melodrama‚ did a wartime love triangle lead to Falk' betrayal?‚ with healthy doses of quotidian banter, admirably capturing the bickering camaraderie of the young musicians." Andrew Haig Martin

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"Their journey back and forth in time, from Berlin and Paris at the onset of World War II to the flat farmland of Poland at the end of the Cold War, is twisty and exciting, and on a surface level Half-Blood Blues is an above-average thriller. What lifts it to award-winning level is the language and the internal conflict at its heart." Jeff Baker

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"From bleak, violent cityscapes, [the story] shifts to the troubled souls of the musicians as they tend the pure flame of art and the impure fire of jealousy. It' history, and it' timeless." Richard Wakefield

Critical Summary

Whether the musicians are in a Berlin club being rousted, hung over in a Parisian street, or down and out in Baltimore, Edugyan's dramatic flair and eye for detail keep the pages turning. She spans both geography and eras with ease. Bassist Sid Griffiths narrates the tale, and although some critics decry his Baltimore-German dialect and unusual lingo as less than authentic, others hail its lyrical expressiveness. But even his detractors insist it' a minor glitch in light of Edugyan's masterful writing. The characters' melodic conversational style is in sync with the jazz-centric story line, and the novel' danger, thrills, and betrayal complement her style with a powerful story.