Half-blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

I am always amazed at how much I learn about war from novels. If you have read this blog you know that I read plenty of novels that take place during the second world war. This novel is another view of war through the eyes of fictional characters. American jazz musicians were living and playing in Berlin and they were doing very well before the whispers of war. But slowly life changed for them and it is now 1939 and reality has hit them hard. Sid and Chip are old friends from Baltimore who are struggling to keep their band together as the clubs are closing in Berlin. The newest member of the band, Hiero Falk, is a young black German. This kid plays like no one they have ever heard before, and he is the one in the most danger. Into this mix of musicians is a woman, naturally, and she becomes the center of the struggles between Sid and Hiero.

The band moves to Nazi occupied Paris and then the novel goes forward to 1992 where Chip and Sid are on shaky ground as friends and they are trying to face the truth about the past. Sid is the narrator of the novel and he is a flawed man. He is wrapped in insecurity and guilt and this has carried him for years. But this is also a story about betrayal and how the actions of the past can haunt us.

Half-blood Blues was a finalist for the 2011 UK Booker Prize and I know why. It has a voice and a soundtrack that is unique to fiction and it should be picked up by all readers. And as I said, there are new things that I learned about these occupied cities and it just makes the horror of any war, that much more sad and terrible. To read about the Nazi flag being flown over the Eiffel Tower is shocking and surprising. It led me to find a short film online that shows Hitler touring “his city” and going with his officers to look at the Eiffel Tower with a swastika flying overhead.

So many times war is the backdrop to compelling stories that have romance, friendship and all those emotions that make us human. This novel gives us believable and far from perfect characters who are just trying to make music and they end up just trying to survive. A fantastic read.

Recommended reading:  Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay and Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky, two great books about Paris during the war.

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