Reading group reviews: Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
24 May 2012 / 0 Comments
We gave away reading group sets of Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan. If your reading group or book club has read the book, please do use this page to post your reviews and see what other reading group members think of it.
About the book
The aftermath of the fall of Paris, 1940. Hieronymus Falk, a rising star on the cabaret scene, is arrested in a cafe and never heard from again. He is twenty years old. A German citizen. And he is black. Fifty years later, Sid, Hiero's bandmate and the only witness that day, is going back to Berlin. Persuaded by his old friend Chip, Sid discovers there's more to the journey than he thought when Chip shares a mysterious letter, bringing to the surface secrets buried since Hiero's fate was settled. In Half Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan weaves the horror of betrayal, the burden of loyalty and the possibility that, if you don't tell your story, someone else might tell it for you. And they just might tell it wrong ...
About the author
Esi Edugyan has degrees from the University of Victoria and Johns Hopkins University. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, including Best New American Voices 2003. Her debut novel, written when she was 25, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, was published internationally. She currently lives in Victoria, British Columbia.
During the late 1930's persecution of the Afro-Germans by the Third Reich and Jazz Music which was banned as 'degenerate' were topics of previously unfamiliar to most of the group.
The main protagonist in the story are jazz musicians, 'The Hot Time Swingers', a group made up of Afro-German, Jewish and African Americans, who ironically came to Europe between the wars to escape racial prejudice but now have to play in secret for fear of arrest.
The Afro-German in the group is Hieronymous 'Hiero' Falk, a talented renowned trumpeter who was classed by the Nazi regime as a mischiling, or half breed rendered stateless, and so with no passport or official documents he has no chance of leaving the country.
We are introduced to the world of nightclub life in Berlin between the wars, Europe seemed the place to be for jazz and swing (gates) musicians, but the Baltimore soul vernacular was confusing as was the inclusion of fictional celebrities alongside the non-fictional, e.g. Louis Armstrong and Stephen Grapelli. However, the author certainly captured the fear and tyranny that war can bring and the hell of not feeling secure in one's own country.
We would recommend this book but with reservations, it was quite a difficult 'book of the month'.
-- Carmarthen Library Reading Group
This is a book about the struggle of talented Black musicians under pressure from Nazi Germany. The main characters are in their early twenties trying to cut a record under difficult circumstances 'under cover'. I found the diction difficult to get in to but, eventually, the reader hears the author and main character's voice clearly because of the Afro-American lingo. The storyline is structured but you have to have patience to reach the final pages where the main characters are reunited and the truth is revealed. Under pressure the frailty of human nature is revealed, where friends betray each other in order to survive. The title of the book is also revealed as the vinyl record title that the musicians have been striving to create. This is a pleasant surprise for the reader, I feel, and also ties together the theme of half-blood which is continuous throughout. We are always aware that the main protagonists are African American nationality trying to reach Paris to record and play their jazz music. Their struggle is evident and the fact that they are not German blood strikes us in the first pages when Hiero is arrested and taken away for no reason from his friend Sid.
-- Central Library, Halifax Reading Group
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