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 resistance.
I think it’s safe to say this was one of the most hyped Canadian novels of 2011. Nominated for basically every big lit awards, it nabbed itself the Giller Prize and became a hit. And while I usually don’t run out and buy a book because it won an award, I did put Half-Blood Blues on my Christmas list and was lucky enough to receive it.
While I really, really enjoyed it, I didn’t fall in love with the writing or the story. But there were elements that I did love.
I LOVED reading about that time period. I don’t read a lot of fiction set in the past, but I really should. The way that Edugyan described what was going on in 1939/1940 was addictive. The political unrest, the clothing, the jazz scene. It was all beautifully written and made me feel like I was right there. I also loved the way she unfolded the story. The pacing was just dead-on.
I did, however, have some issue with another aspect of the writing. The intermingling of the slang with some “literary” and at times flowery (though beautiful) writing felt a bit off to me and sometimes took me out of the story.
I won’t give anything away, but I think Half-Blood Blues has one of my favorite endings of all time. Seriously. Okay, that’s all I’m saying. Oh, and one more thing: this was a great story and despite some issues with the language, I really liked it.