Esi Edugyan's "Half-Blood Blues" is a period story of the jazz culture with colourful scenes of jamming sessions, drinking and bickering among a mixed-race ensemble called the Hot-Time Swingers. The novel interweaves two chronologically distinct storylines one during the turmoil of the 1940's Europe and the other decades later. We see how old friends struggle to reconcile with a past that strongly influenced their future and their contribution to the music world, a recap of their personal side and their creativeness as artists.
At the center is Sidney "Sid" Griffiths, an African American bass player who performed with the Swingers in Berlin with his band mates and childhood friends, Chip C. Jones a rather tasty homophone and Hieronymus "Hiero" Falk, a "mischling" born in Germany with roots stemming from Africa. "Sid" is the narrator who takes us back and forth in time while he recounts his memories of events.
It all starts in 1940 Berlin when the group is forced to flee Germany and is rumoured to have had a vague offer to play with Louis Armstrong. Griffiths and his band mates escape to Paris where they discover a rapidly changing world, one that is gradually succumbing to Nazi power and the racial hatred that follows. Their lives are in constant fear with little hope on the horizon, the trio is broken up when Hiero is arrested and disappears, only to leave a few scattered recordings of their sessions together.…
The second storyline brings us to 1992 as we follow Sid and Chip's journey back to Europe in search of Hiero hoping to rekindle the bond they had and come to peace with their past.
This is an emotional story with rich and well-drawn characters. The plot is powerful and thought-provoking as it deals with sensitive issues over a span of several decades. The beautifully energetic narrative captures the rhythmic patois of the jazz musicians and has created a unique voice for its narrator. At first I found it difficult to follow, not being familiar with the lingo, however, once I overcame my handicap and addressed it as a new challenge I fell right into the beat and enjoyed every remaining page, it added another dimension to a very interesting story.
Congratulations Ms. Edugyan for winning the Scotia Bank Giller prize for 2011.