Title : Half Blood Blues
Author: Esi Edugyan
She forgot the definition of “jazz” as well and came to think of it as every beautiful thing she had ever failed to appreciate: the taste of warm rain; the smell of a baby; the din of a swollen river, rushing past her tree and onward to infinity.
– David Sedaris, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary
Half Blood Blues plays out in Nazi controlled Berlin and in occupied Paris before and during the Second World War. It follows the fortunes of a band of Afro American and an Afro German jazz players who continue to make music through the dread of the war and the debilitating personal feelings of failure and jealousy.
Half Blood Blues mentions the legendary jazz musician, Hieronymous Falk or the Kid who disappears during the second world war. He is part of an Afro American jazz band which is trying to survive the Nazi persecution. The book then moves to America, fifty years on; it is suspected that Kid is alive and there is the promise of a meeting at the end of a journey, that his erstwhile band members Sidney Griffiths and Charles C. Jones undertake.
Written as a first person narrative, Half Blood Blues is the voice of the old and the weary. And when the narrative turns back to the past, which seems more real than the present, Half Blood Blues is also the voice of the young and the energetic. The storyline flits between the now and the past. The now is in the early 1990s and the past was in 1939.
Half Blood Blues has a jagged tone like the blues and the story drips with pathos. The storyline and the characters are deeply emotional as all art and artists are understood to be. We encounter mixed race, wild music and plenty of verbal idiosyncracy.
What does not work so well
Somewhere along the middle of the book, repetition sets in. The pace goes slow and there are no sub plots to break the monotony.
The settings start to repeat themselves. The band members are stuck in a tiny place, hidden from the rest of the world too many times.
Delilah Brown is the person holding the story together, pushing the action, making things happen, having contacts, having compassion, dispensing love and living with anger, stress and disappointment. And yet, everything about Delilah sounds unreal, from her sudden and unexplained appearances throughout the book to her looks.
Half Blood Blues touches your soul, in a mess of wild joyous music surviving passionately the personal misery and the fear that the war brought.
Very beautiful, just as Jazz is.