Half-Blood BluesBook | Esi Edugyan By Damian Van Denburgh
Should have been a hit.
Winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize, longlisted for the Orange Prize, and a finalist for the Man Booker Prize, Half-Blood Blues by Canadian novelist Esi Edugyan comes with an impressive pedigree. Moving in time among late '30s/early '40s Berlin and Paris, and early '90s post-Wall Berlin, the narrative focuses on bass player Sid Griffiths, Chip Jones, drummer, and trumpeter Heironymous Falk, key members of a jazz band, The Hot-Time Swingers. After a brief flirtation with success in a Europe hungry for authentic jazz, the Swingers suddenly find themselves up against the Nazi declaration that all jazz (unless sanctioned by the Nazis themselves) is "degenerate." Forced to stay ahead of the storm troopers, the group, including the love interest and singer Delilah, spends most of the book either on the run or hiding out and waiting for papers that can get them to safety. Edugyan has taken on a hugely ambitious story and, for the most part, she succeeds. But while Half-Blood Blues teems with energy, vitality, and some poetically rendered evocations of place, it too frequently drags when it shouldn't. Perhaps the biggest frustration is that the book is told exclusively from Sid's point of view, making for some unexpected monotony to the proceedings. Edugyan is a powerful writer and one to watch. But next time, the whole band should get to play.