Saturday, March 10, 2012

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

3 Star

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.

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.  From the smoky bars of pre-war Berlin to the salons of  Paris – where the legendary Louis Armstrong makes an appearance – Sid, with his distinctive and rhythmic German-American slang, leads the reader through a fascinating world alive with passion, music and the spirit of resistance.

Lydia - 3 Star

Unfortunately Half Blood Blues, the 2011 Giller Prize winner, didn’t live up to the hype. The novel appealed to me on several levels, but I found it was mostly whiny men struggling over a woman rather than struggling with racial and war time issues and that of their music and it all seemed a bit *gasp* boring and anti-climactic to me.
There were lyrical, poignant and thought provoking descriptions in this novel and some of the sentences invoked wonder as I stopped and went ‘wow’.  But as much as these existed, I never really felt the characters connection to their passion, to the music. It never seemed well described to me which was a surprise considering some of the prose. There were even times that through the slang the narrative slipped into some more elaborate language which brought my reading to an abrupt halt. Would Sid have used those words to describe something? They didn’t seem to fit with his character at all and thankfully this only occurred a couple of times, but it didn’t seem right for a prize winning novel to hold such odd inconsistencies.
I almost wish we didn’t have the ending up front which would have made the novel much more suspenseful. Their escape from Berlin would have been nail biting if I didn’t already know they made it out. It made several key scenes anti-climactic. We were even told early on who survived which left little mystery to this novel.  I struggled to continue at times and the only reason I kept reading was the bit of intrigue surrounding how Sid and Hiero parted ways, which was left to the end – so maybe it was needed at the beginning after all to keep me flipping pages.
Part of the problem might have been that I didn’t like any of the characters. In fact, they grew more irritating as the novel progressed. We are introduced with a mystery and then catch up with Sid and Chip late in life. Chip has been successful, but is still an egomaniac and compulsive liar while Sid remains a bitter old man - and the story is told from his perspective. Lovely. Rewind back to Berlin and Paris during World War II where they began.  And they are exactly the same. No change or evolution occurred. Add a few other characters in the past storyline – Hiero, whose quiet character was never really developed and Delilah who remains elusive and distant and they are equally not entirely likeable.
There wasn’t much emotion in this novel. Maybe that was missing for me too. It all seemed a bit slow and the only interesting thing I really liked was the introduction of Louis Armstrong which I found liked reading about as I've always loved his music.  

All in all, I really don't believe this was deserving of the Giller, I've read other more powerful novels that have won the same prize and Half Blood Blues doesn't even begin to compare.
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