Review: Half-Blood Blues — Esi Edugyan

Read: 90
To Go: 10

Book List
81. The Next Always — Nora Roberts
82. The Single Girl’s To-Do List — Lindsey Kelk
83. The Heart of Devin MacKade — Nora Roberts
84. The Fall of Shane MacKade — Nora Roberts
85. One on One — Peter Mansbridge
86. Girls in White Dresses — Jennifer Close
87. American Born Chinese — Gene Luen Yang
88. Lady Gaga: Critical Mass Fashion — Lizzy Goodman
89. Chorus of Mushrooms — Hiromi Goto
90. Half-Blood Blues — Esi Edugyan

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.

I felt it was only right that I should read this year’s Giller Prize winner before the end of the challenge. (I also wanted to add Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, the Governor General’s Literary Awards winner, to the list, but I have the last ten books I’m reading already.) Oh, and can you believe I’m 90% of the way through this challenge? There was a time I didn’t think I’d finish.

At any rate, I was really impressed. Half-Blood Blues is worthy of all its nominations, and its win. The characters, as well as the setting, are vivid and real; I could see them as if they were in front of me. Sid’s slang was consistent all throughout the book, which is a plus — if you’re going to go all out with a deliberately different style of narration, it better carry through the novel.

Now, I’m not much of a music person. I mean, I love music but I don’t have the vocabulary to describe music. I couldn’t tell you the difference between an F note and an A note. (Is there such a thing as an A note?) I dropped out of a guitar class within one week. But, for someone as musically illiterate as I am, I understood the type of rhythms that Sid was describing. That, I believe, is the mark of good writing: when you can make an otherwise clueless reader understand what you’re talking about.

Beyond that, the story itself was really moving and beautiful and sad. And you felt for Sid; he was a jerk at times, there’s no denying, but you could understand why he did what he did. (For the most part. Some of the time I was just cursing him.) I’d definitely recommend Half-Blood Blues; it was a really, really good read.

(Also, side note: I think this is one of my favourite covers of the year.)

Next book: either The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, or Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner. Sahar needs the rest of her books back, I’m sure!

– Kelsey

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