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Esi Edugyan won the Scotiabank Giller Prize for her novel Half-Blood Blues, about black jazz musicians who go from Berlin to Paris right before World War Two. One of them, Hiero, is arrested because he is of Senegalese-German descent and therefore, is deeply hated by the Nazis and is sent to the concentration camps. The book is told as a flashback by Sid, who founds out that Hiero is alive and living in Poland.

This is a great story – black people living in Germany and France before and during the war, and what they face because of this. Mix that with jazz, Louis Armstrong, love, friendship, and finding a way to get out of Europe, you have a rich, powerful story.

What I really liked about Esi Edugyan’s writing is the dialogue – the characters have these long, confusing (where three or more are talking) conversations that has lots of 1940s slang and jazz slang. It seemed very real, as though I was eavesdropping on these musicians in 1940.

The novel also succeeded in drawing you into this world of France right when the war begins – how quiet and empty the streets are when war is declared, or the smoke billowing and the guns rumbling by the Germans shelling outside Paris, or the sheer mass of the crowds of refugees desperately trying to leave Paris before the Germans come.

I did have one problem, and that was with the character of Sid, the narrator. As we learn, the reason why Hiero is arrested is because he is in the wrong place at the wrong time, but also Sid received Hiero’s visa just days before he was arrested. Sid hid Hiero’s papers because he wants to finish the record they have been trying to record for years. Unfortunately, because of Sid’s actions, Hiero is sent to the concentration camps.

Sid doesn’t seem genuinely upset that Hiero was arrested, as they were basically competing for the same woman. Sid is selfish and deeply jealous at Hiero’s talent, so the reader is left wondering if he isn’t just a bit gleeful at Hiero’s arrest. When he discovers that Hiero is still alive, he realizes that things you have done during the war have a way of coming up fifty years later.

Half-Blood Blues is Canadian literature at its best, and I really liked it (even though I disliked the main character). I’m glad that she won the Giller Prize and was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award and the Man Booker Prize. It was extensively researched, it’s a great title and it was a story that needed to be told.

Rating:

{  } Pretty bad
{  } Tolerable
{  } All right
{x} Exciting
{  } Enthralling

Book 14 out of 60

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