It is nominated for the Booker, the Giller, the Rogers Trust. It combines Nazis and jazz and violence and many lonely hours, starving in a squat in Paris. And it is beautiful: Half-Blood Blues is pitch-perfect. It is the voice that does it. Written in a 1930s dialect that never strays off-tempo, this novel is the closest thing to real jazz since Coming Through Slaughter.
Esi Edugyan, a self proclaimed “little kid from Calgary – this girl from the colonies" has been called a prodigy by the Booker Prize jurors. And I see it. With her mournful protagonist Sid, she has crafted a flesh and bones bass player from Baltimore, stranded in Berlin as the Nazis rise to power. He rolls with Chip (an American drummer), Paul (a Jewish piano player) and a kid-genius trumpet player, Hieronymus Falk.
Hiero is the one with the problems. An Afro-German who is stateless in Germany and an enemy in France, in the first scenes Hiero is arrested. After that, the novel tries to set events straight, and, like real life, it leaves much to be imagined. Instead we are left with the real fear: what it would be like to have our friends disappeared, what the train station felt like on the day people fled Paris. The most gruesome, gorgeous scene of all– when Hiero and Sid visit a zoo in Hamburg. The exhibit is an African family living in their hut, a high pointed fence around them, caged like wild cats.
Hot off the presses, nominated for everything– reviewers are hard on this book, mostly because they want answers, and answers don’t come easily here.Half-Blood Blues won’t march towards an inevitable climax. Like jazz, this novel seems to duck behind corners, switch directions. Yet somehow the story, in all its depravity, still manages to swing.