Release Date: June 16th, 2011
Publisher: Thomas Allen
Buy It: Book Depository
Paris, 1940. A brilliant jazz musician, Hiero, is arrested by the Nazis and never heard from again. He is twenty years old. He is a German citizen. And he is black.In some ways, completely unrelated to the content of the novel, Half Blood Blues reminds me slightly of Blood Red Road by Moira young- and not just because of the gore in the title. The two books are both written in dialect, a fact which is in some ways responsible for their slow starts, but once the reader becomes fully immersed it is impossible not to fall in love with the story.
Fifty years later, his friend and fellow musician, Sid, must relive that unforgettable time, revealing the friendships, love affairs and treacheries that sealed Hiero’s fate.
Part of what surprised me about Half Blood Blues was the fact that for a historical book, one with a story told mainly in the past, it isn't just about the history: at its core Edugyan's novel is truly human. This humanity comes mainly from the character of Sid, his voice as the narrator felt so genuine I find it difficult to imagine what Edugyan's other novels are like, how can she tell any other stories when this one felt so real? The musicians that make up the group Sid is a part of are each unique and believable and in Half Blood Blues each of them tells their own story: the solider's son who believes in music, the Jew with the aryan appearance, the young prodigy. Mingled into the story are real people and events so that the novel reminded me slightly of The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, a book where it is hard to know where the truth ends and the imagination begins precisely.
Although Half Blood Blues has been nominated for many awards such as the Booker, the Giller and the Governor General's, it is not so overly literary as to be inaccessible. Once the reader becomes accustomed to Sid's voice, the story itself is approachable and easy to read. Still, it is not a novel to be taken lightly and it deals heavily with issues of race, such as the hierarchy of blacks in Nazi Germany, that most are unfamiliar with but which I found fascinating. In the end, Half Blood Blues provides a powerful message about jealously, betrayal and friendship in incredibly difficult times; and it is certainly not the last book by Edugyan that I will be reading.