BOOK REVIEW: Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

Half Blood Blues by Esi EdugyanHalf Blood Blues
By Esi Edugyan
Completed April 26, 2012

I always say in my book reviews: When a book can teach me something new about history, then I am a fan. In her highly acclaimed Half Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan taught me a different perspective of World War II – one that incorporates American and German jazz musicians who shared a common love of music.

The book is told from the viewpoint of Sid Griffiths, the bass player for an up-and-coming jazz band, The Hot-Time Swingers, who were playing in jazz clubs throughout Berlin. Jazz was hot in pre-World War II Germany, but when Hitler came to power, he considered the music to be “degenerate.” This left Sid and his band mates, namely his boyhood friend, Chip, and a black German horn player, Hiero, out of work. The 1939 sections of the story center around the band mates’ escape from Germany and their brief time together in Paris.

Fast forward more than 50 years, and the story focuses on elder Sid and Chip, who are returning to Germany for a jazz festival in Hiero’s honor.  Sid watched Hiero get arrested in Paris, and he assumed Hiero died, but Chip has information that will test Sid’s belief. Once they arrive in Berlin, they decide to travel to Poland to learn what happened to Hiero.

Many reviewers found Half Blood Blues to be slow-paced. However, I felt the complete opposite: I was completely riveted by the story, turning pages late into the night. This may be the result of my insatiable curiosity about World War II history, but I have to think that Edugyan’s superb writing style also played a part. Another common complaint was the jargon used throughout the dialogues: it was a blend of black vernacular mixed in with 1940’s slang. Germans were “boots,” women were “janes.” It did not bother me too much, but I understand where these critiques are coming from.

For me, Half Blood Blues was the complete package: gripping, humanistic, real. I am pleased that Edugyan has been short listed for the 2012 Orange Prize, and I hope lovers of literary and historical fiction will find their way to this book. ( )


11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. BermudaOnion
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 05:00:59

    There are so many WWII stories out there so it’s nice to see one from a new perspective.


  2. raidergirl3
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 06:17:24

    I felt exactly the same way! I did not find it slow paced, and I actually loved the slang voice. Her descriptions of the music just blew me away. And while I dont’ search out WW2 books, this one provided such a different view. It would go well with Suite Francaise, the view of the occupation in France during the war.

    Great review Jill!


  3. Jenny Colvin (@readingenvy)
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 07:08:31

    I’m like you; I was riveted.


  4. Laura
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 19:08:02

    Very interesting review Jill! You’ve made me sit up and take more notice of this book. And Raidergirl suggesting it as a companion to Suite Francaise, well that intrigues me too (I really liked that one).


    • mrstreme
      Apr 28, 2012 @ 21:31:14

      Yes, it would be an interesting companion book to Suite Francaise. Different perspectives of the German invasion of Paris. Now, Wendy R. gave this book 3.5 stars. I wonder what you would rate it…..


  5. JoV
    Apr 29, 2012 @ 16:24:28

    I almost gave up when I tried a few pages, due to what you said about the Language used. But I’m willing to try again with all the shortlists and rave reviews, I’m willing to persevere! Thanks for the review.


  6. Vasilly
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 06:42:18

    I’ve read the same complaints about the book so I decided to listen to it on audio. I can’t wait. Great review.


  7. Michelle Onemorechapter
    May 05, 2012 @ 03:02:10

    Hope I love this one as much as you and Elizabeth. Looking forward to it even more now!


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