Winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize
Man Booker Prize Finalist 2011
An Oprah Magazine Best Book of the Year
Shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction
Berlin, 1939. The Hot Time Swingers, a popular jazz band, has been forbidden to play by the Nazis. Their young trumpet-player Hieronymus Falk, declared a musical genius by none other than Louis Armstrong, is arrested in a Paris café. He is never heard from again. He was twenty years old, a German citizen. And he was black.
Berlin, 1952. Falk is a jazz legend. Hot Time Swingers band members Sid Griffiths and Chip Jones, both African Americans from Baltimore, have appeared in a documentary about Falk. When they are invited to attend the film's premier, Sid's role in Falk's fate will be questioned and the two old musicians set off on a surprising and strange journey.
From the smoky bars of pre-war Berlin to the salons of Paris, Sid leads the reader through a fascinating, little-known world as he describes the friendships, love affairs and treacheries that led to Falk's incarceration in Sachsenhausen. Esi Edugyan's Half-Blood Blues is a story about music and race, love and loyalty, and the sacrifices we ask of ourselves, and demand of others, in the name of art.
Edugyan's second novel, shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize, pays a mournful tribute to the Hot-Time Swingers, a once-legendary six-piece German-American multiracial jazz ensemble gigging in Berlin on the eve of WWII. When the pianist is picked up by the Gestapo, the remaining members flee to Paris with forged passports to meet Louis Armstrong in hopes of cutting a record. After the German occupation of Paris, "the Boots" arrest Hieronymous ("Hiero") Falk, the band's 20-year-old-genius Afro-German trumpet player, leaving the band with one half-finished record, one shattered love affair, and one too many secrets. The story of the band's demise and partial resurrection, as seen through the eyes of Sid Griffiths the upright bass player unfolds in richly scripted vignettes alternating between 1939/1940 (when Hiero disappears) and 1992 (when Sid and Chip Jones, the percussionist, revisit Berlin for a Hieronymous Falk festival and walk down memory lane). By the book's end, readers will have pieced together most of the truth behind Sid's biased recounting of events, but nothing will prepare them for the disclosure of an ultimate betrayal. While the rarely explored subject adds to the book's allure, what stands out most is its cadenced narration and slangy dialogue, as conversations, both spoken and unspoken, snap, sizzle, and slide off the page. Sid's motivation can feel obscure, but his lessons learned are hard-won all the same.
A great concept -- experiences of a racially mixed jazz band in Paris and Germany at the start of ww2
Wonderful prose -- time and time again I was taken back by how the author could use slang from the era and not sound dated, and how concise yet lyrical her writing was.
The flaws -- an ending that felt rushed and parts of the story felt incomplete .
Ultimately a more gifted writer than storyteller.
Still a wonderful and thought provoking read.