Jazz and war make for a dramatic tale in Half-Blood Blues

By Ashley Martin And Jenn Sharp, The StarPhoenix

Victoria, B.C. author Esi Edugyan transports readers to another time and place in her novel Half-Blood Blues. Mostly taking place in Germany and Paris during the Second World War, the story is told by Sid, a jazz bassist whose band included the next Louis Armstrong – a half-black German trumpeter named Hieronymus Falk. Edugyan’s cast of characters endure artistic jealousies, a love triangle, the threat of capture by the Nazis, and ultimately a mystery, all of which are articulated by an elderly Sid in 1992. Half-Blood Blues won the Scotiabank Giller Prize in November. This year’s Giller jury considered a record-setting 143 books submitted by 55 Canadian publishers.

ASHLEY MARTIN: Half-Blood Blues had so many interesting elements – history, mystery, drama, moral dilemmas – and yet I found it really difficult to get into. It took me a full month to read this book because I kept tossing it aside – maybe because the male narrator was harder to relate to.

How did you feel about the book?

JENN SHARP: Well, not going to lie here – it took me longer than a month to begin reading it. I tried several times and just couldn’t wrap my head around the first few pages. If a book doesn’t pull me in right from the beginning, it’s a tough slog and not one I’m prepared to spend my free time on.

Last weekend however, I curled up on the couch with a cup of tea and Half-Blood Blues. I was quickly transported to a dirty and dangerous Paris, circa 1940. Edugyan’s prose is startlingly adept and I have to give her credit for that. The slang takes some time to catch on to though and there are several words in the book that I never quite figured out what they meant. On page 32, Sid sums up their past perfectly: “A bunch of German and American kids meeting up in Berlin and Paris between the wars to make all this wild, joyful music before the Nazis kick it to pieces.” It’s a fascinating look into this history and that’s why I ended up loving this book – it gave me a glimpse into a world I know nothing about

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