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on November 24, 2013
There aren't that many novels that come along that stop me in my track. Half-Blood Blues was such a novel. Esi Edugyan is so talented it is almost too good to be true. Her novel about rag-tag war time jazz players gone underground is absolutely engrossing. It is gritty, hard-hitting and at the same time a heart breaking tale. The story mainly takes place in Paris just before the occupation and it uncovers the way German blacks, and African Americans mostly artists types, were categorized and discriminated against. German blacks were treated with contempt while African Americans were relatively free to travel and perform without issue. This story is one that should be essential reading in high school as it tells an important story mostly untold. It moved me and opened my eyes to yet another German atrocity.
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on December 5, 2011
I enjoyed this narrative style of writing of jazz musicians and the personal approach to tell the story of France and it's voluntary role to follow the Nazi persecution of the jews and other non-aryan races. I knew that Jazz musician had gone to Europe but didn't realize that all the "greats" had gone there. Armstrong was smart to leave when he did. The book has some good historical background but it's the clever twists of information that keep the narrative inticing to the end where the story is all unravelled. A good read.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2011
This is a rather weak novel. The characters are virtually indistinguishable from one another and I often found myself wondering who is who. Also, there is no sense of Berlin during the war, nor of Germany or Paris. So, weak characterizations and no sense of place. It really feels like a good book by a promising writer rather than a Giller Prize winner. It's too bad, I was looking forward to it. As I finished the book, I found that the last ten pages or so, when the characters meet again in Poland, were by far the most fully realized pages in the entire piece. It made me wonder if she hadn't started with that as an exercise in creating a scene involving the three jazz musicians and decided to fill in the previous 280 some pages. This was not a satisfying read to be sure.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 2012
The reason I purchased this book is because I actually saw it advertised on the subway in Toronto. I was interested in the book because it was about jazz and my spouse in the past wrote jazz reviews. I did not expect the book to be so well written and did not realize that African Americans were treated so badly in Germany, even if they were of German birth.

When I was reading the book I could hear the musicians jazzing and what they were going through emotionally. Now I realize why so many American African jazz musicians left USA as they were more accepted in Europe, so they thought.

I also did not realize that the author won the Giller prize. The author is a brilliant writer and takes you to every place the musicians are. I would love the author to be able to make this into a movie, especially with a Canadian Director, if possible. I intend e-mailing the author and recommending this be made into a movie. Unbelievable book, I read in two days.

Please buy more Canadian books because we have the greatest authors.
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on April 14, 2014
Really a great book to read. It took my imagination right back to a time when Jazz and swing was alive in Paris and Berlin. To be young and alive in those two great cities must have been wonderful. Edugayan really captures that moment in time and allows you to feel and visualise what the young musicians are experiencing. Then we are transported to a time when the world was traumatised by the Nazis. You feel for the desperation , the longing to escape. Really enjoyed the book.
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on February 21, 2014
this story had promise - interesting time period and subject; good research of the slang. But in the end none of the main characters were likeable and none of them are redeemed. I wanted to like this book but I so disliked the characters - they were watered down and the little that they were described were mean that I have to say give this a pass.
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on January 29, 2014
I found it well worth reading and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a story of young jazz musicians who find themselves in Berlin in the late '30s. The characters are well portrayed. and it was an introduction to jazz for me.
i would recommend it to anyone as the emotional aspect is not too sentimental for most.
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on August 31, 2013
A friend recommended this one that their book club was reading. I was intrigued by the topic although I didnt know the author. I enjoyed both the story and the author's style. The book is full of exquisite prose. Esi creates magic with hr pen that makes you feel you are present with the characters. Loved it!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Unfortunately Half-Blood Blues, the 2011 Giller Prize winner, didn't live up to the hype. The novel appealed to me on several levels, but I found it was mostly whiny men struggling over a woman rather than struggling with racial and war time issues and that of their music and it all seemed a bit *gasp* boring and anti-climactic to me.

There were lyrical, poignant and thought provoking descriptions in this novel and some of the sentences invoked wonder as I stopped and went `wow'. But as much as these existed, I never really felt the characters connection to their passion, to the music. It never seemed well described to me which was a surprise considering some of the prose. There were even times that through the slang the narrative slipped into some more elaborate language which brought my reading to an abrupt halt. Would Sid have used those words to describe something? They didn't seem to fit with his character at all and thankfully this only occurred a couple of times, but it didn't seem right for a prize winning novel to hold such odd inconsistencies.

I almost wish we didn't have the ending up front which would have made the novel much more suspenseful. Their escape from Berlin would have been nail biting if I didn't already know they made it out. It made several key scenes anti-climactic. We were even told early on who survived which left little mystery to this novel. I struggled to continue at times and the only reason I kept reading was the bit of intrigue surrounding how Sid and Hiero parted ways, which was left to the end - so maybe it was needed at the beginning after all to keep me flipping pages.

Part of the problem might have been that I didn't like any of the characters. In fact, they grew more irritating as the novel progressed. We are introduced with a mystery and then catch up with Sid and Chip late in life. Chip has been successful, but is still an egomaniac and compulsive liar while Sid remains a bitter old man - and the story is told from his perspective. Lovely. Rewind back to Berlin and Paris during World War II where they began. And they are exactly the same. No change or evolution occurred. Add a few other characters in the past storyline - Hiero, whose quiet character was never really developed and Delilah who remains elusive and distant and they are equally not entirely likeable.

There wasn't much emotion in this novel. Maybe that was missing for me too. It all seemed a bit slow and the only interesting thing I really liked was the introduction of Louis Armstrong which I found liked reading about as I've always loved his music.

All in all, I really don't believe this was deserving of the Giller, I've read other more powerful novels that have won the same prize and Half Blood Blues doesn't even begin to compare.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2012
Let me say that I did really like this book for the most part. The concept story was great. The execution, not so great, but enjoyable for the most part. However, where was the editing?
I enjoyed the two main characters a lot. The jazz references, were entertaining although not completely accurate of course but that's OK, But there seemed to be something missing in the build up of why Hiero was so great. His story was lacking.

This book needed someone to say: Keep the voice consistent; keep the characters consistent; don't lose steam on the ending and lazily finish it into a "so what?" ending. I felt cheated at the end of this book. It just felt like the writer ran out of steam. I actually went back through it to see if I inadvertently skipped some pages.
Would I recommend it? I am not sure. Good story telling but lacking that consistent writing factor. I am surprised that it won the Giller. Wasn't there anyone who would honestly say, "You've got gold here, but it needs polishing"?
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