Jan 12, 2012

Half-Blood Blues

I have to get this out of the way first: there should be a hyphen in the title. There is on the author's site, and on some of the covers, but not everywhere, and not on the copy I bought. This is driving me wacky.


I read the Giller Prize winner, Half Blood Blues (CAN, JP, USA), by Esi Eduyan and published by Thomas Allen.

The book is about a multilingual group of jazz performers, from varying ethnic backgrounds, during the early days of the second world war. It tackles the heedy issues of race vs. ethnicity and people's perceptions while paying attention to the group dynamic of a few people affected by huge events outside of their control. The narrator explores his love for music and balancing that with his jealousy over a woman and his tolerance of a malicious friend. The book jumps time between Vichy Paris, 1992 America and Poland, and pre-war Germany. The time jumps are flawless, and despite knowing what will happen to the majority of characters, you get sucked up into the action and forget that they will not be around soon.

For me, it was the language that made this book. Eduyan makes a clear distinction between the pre-war Jazz age and 1992, and all using the dialect of the same characters. You can just see that Sid, the narrator, has given up the jazz lifestyle and has grown up by the words he uses during which era. The Jazz dialect is rhythmic and parallels the passion these boys put into their music. I love the fact that German-speaking Hiero puts the inflection he learns from the English-speaking bandmembers into his own speech. That rings quite true to me- I know people who hang out at the same bar all the time who sound more and more like each other every day but speak different languages- and they are not even trapped in a club by the advancing Nazi troops!

Reading this book was beautiful until the last 4 pages. Then it became clear that the story we were working up to was not going to be told. I understand why it wasn't told, what the choice of the narrator was not to press for it- but I don't like it. It was frustrating, to say the least. It feels like Paullina Simons' Bronze Horseman trilogy at the end, a beauiful, lyrical book that needs to tell more stories. But this isn't a historical romance and I don't know if Eduyan is planning a sequel. If she did I'd be first in line to buy it, however.

This is the 21st book I read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

1 comment:

  1. Nicely described. I know what you meant about the ending.


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