Half-Blood Blues: A Novel Paperback – Sep 3 2011
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“... brilliantly conceived, gorgeously executed novel.”(Globe & Mail)
“Half-Blood Blues itself represents a kind of flowering—
that of a gifted storyteller."(Toronto Star)
“...a stunning, powerful read, a compelling story
brilliantly told.”(Quill & Quire)
“Half-Blood Blues is an engrossing and unforgettable
story.”(Austin Clarke, author of The Polished Hoe)
“With Half-Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan has written a truly
beautiful novel.”(Lawrence Hill, author of The Book Of Negroes)
“Edugyan’s elegiac, shimmering prose makes up for the lack of sunny skies in this impressively conceived and well-executed debut.“ ?Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Edugyan’s spare prose, visceral images, and unfussy dialogue create a suitably ominous atmosphere?. The close... is astonishingly moving. A talented writer to watch.“ ?Kirkus Reviews
“[P]acks a powerful emotional punch.... Fine writing, subtle characterisation and a convincing portrayal of place and period mark out this engaging first work, reminiscent of early VS Naipaul.“ ?The Guardian (UK)
“In this brilliantly written debut novel, Edugyan flawlessly creates and maintains a pervasive sense of hope loneliness, foreboding and futility.“ ?Black Issues Book Review (US)
“[The Second Life of Samuel Tyne] balances the brilliance and audacity of youthful enthusiasm with sage awareness. It’s an impressive debut? a beautifully written novel.“ ?Toronto Star
“An assured and insightful first novel of displacement of fractured identity....This deftly constructed tale... of one tiny, befuddled corner of the African diaspora is finally about all of us?about the hope we have of being our best selves, before it’s too late.“ ?The Globe and Mail
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Top Customer Reviews
The story is set both in the 1940s in Berlin and Paris as the Trio try to stay one step ahead of Hitler's ever advancing army but also in the 1990s in a newly reunited Germany at a concert in Hiero's honour. At the heart of the story is the secret Sid harbours as to how Hiero's fate was sealed.
I didn't expect to enjoy this book and it starts slowly but it is a tale that draws you in. Literary takes on music rarely seem to work but Edugyan is able to render the atmosphere of 1940s jazz, the language of the trio and banter between them feels authentic. The plot is a little weak to sustain the length and the potentially most interesting of the characters, Hiero, is the least well developed but by the end of the book they seem like minor complaints as is the rather random and quite pointless inclusion of Louis Armstrong who makes an appearance. A more major complaint on my behalf is that the list price for this trade paperback is $24.95 which seems like daylight robbery especially since the text is littered with typos and printing errors; if you're going to charge that much then at least earn it with some better proofreading. However I shall not hold the publisher's problems against the author.
The plot has been spelled out here by other reviewers, so there is no need to replicate it. I agree that the inclusion of Louis Armstrong added little to the story, and the pivotal character, Hiero, is never really developed although he morphs into a wide icon at the end. For most of the book he is more a sullen juvenile than anyone we can care about.
The major flaw is the author''s apparent lack of familiarity with jazz of any era, especially her inability to express the mood of the musicians and the impact of the music itself. This is hardly unique to her, but it seemed to me that it would be totally necessary in order to justify the personalities and actions of the characters. Jazz, after all, is the principal motivator of both the plot and characters. Nothing in the book communicates the passion they feel (or should) for their music; the author's attempts to describe their playing is embarrassing in its ineptness. As a musician I have never heard a trumpeter describe his or her possessing 'pistons'; they are always valves. And it is impossible, by his words, to believe the narrator actually played a bass fiddle (my instrument), as claimed in the story.
Small points? Maybe. But verisimilitude is vital to any story, especially one as era- and culture-specific as this.
I know the book has won major awards and congratulations to the author for them. But if you know as much as the author should know about one of the two primary subjects (jazz and the Nazis), it's a disappointment.
The narrator, Sid, is an African-American bass player playing jazz in Germany in a legendary combo along with Hiero. He's been criticized by at least one influential critic for not being very likeable, but that has surely never been a criterion for creating memorable characters in fiction. His "voice" is distinctive and I found him highly engaging, perhaps all the more so for his failings as a human being. These in fact turn out to be crucial to the story, which shifts from just before WWII to 1992, when Sid and the other surviving musician from the band travel back to Berlin.
Another reviewer complained here on Amazon that the book is littered with typos and errors: I don't think so. I suspect that person hasn't caught on to the slang and near-dialect the characters use, which subtly change depending on whether it's 1940 or 1992. (E.g., Sid often says "you" instead of "your," drops his "g"s on words like "going" in the earlier sections, etc.) As well, the author has stated in interviews that some of the slang is based on written accounts by jazz musicians of the period, and some of it, such as the nickname "boots" for Nazi soldiers, she made up. The writing flows along with its own rhythms and quirks, like improvised jazz.
All in all, a compelling read!
Most recent customer reviews
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Book club choice. We all really liked it and had plenty to discuss.Published 20 months ago by Debora Bergeron
Really fun to read. Loved the jivey imagery the character uses. Interesting period and focus. Unfortunately, nothing much comes of it all in the end.Published 22 months ago by Pete
Follows a period in history but intertwines a realistic story that is very good.Published 22 months ago by Nancy
A very well written book with so much interest and information. A great story using historical facts. Well researched. Highly recommend this book.Published on May 22 2014 by Lucy Kukac
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. Read morePublished on April 14 2014 by Harvey Brown
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. Read morePublished on Feb. 21 2014 by Catherine Elder
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. Read morePublished on Jan. 29 2014 by Janet C. W. B.