book reviews by Althea

Half-Blood Blues – Esi Edugyan ****

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Half-Blood Blues
Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this book ’cause the blurbs indicated it was about the underground music and club scene in Germany before WWII, which is something that interests me. However, there isn’t really much of that in the book. There’s a passing mention of Max Ernst, and mention of some musicians and dancers – but it doesn’t really paint a wide picture of that demimonde. Rather, it focuses on the relationship between three jazz musicians, both at that time, and in the ‘present’ day (1942 and 1992). It actually does a great job of portraying how a group of musicians can form its own tiny world, to the exclusion of everything outside… and the trauma of that world breaking.
The book was not precisely what I expected, but that’s not a criticism of it. Actually, it was a far better book that I anticipated. Edugyan has a masterful touch with creating voice – the subtle similarities and differences between how the narrator speaks in the different time periods was impressively well done. The characters of Sid, Chip and Hiero fully come to life, with all their passions and flaws. My only (teeny) criticism is that Delilah, the woman who ‘discovers’ their band, remains in a sort-of-interstitial position somewhere between being a major character and a minor one. I wanted to know more of her motivations and background.
Still, the book is an incisive exploration of friendships and betrayals.
I’d highly recommend it. I’ve already ordered Edugyan’s previous novel.

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