Fiction Half Blood Blues

Published on June 1st, 2011


Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

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Blurb: Chip told us not to go out. Said, don’t you boys tempt the devil. But it been one brawl of a night, I tell you. The aftermath of the fall of Paris, 1940. Hieronymous Falk, a rising star on the cabaret scene, was arrested in a cafe and never heard from again. He was twenty years old. He was a German citizen. And he was black. Fifty years later, Sid, Hiero’s bandmate and the only witness that day, is going back to Berlin. Persuaded by his old friend Chip, Sid discovers there’s more to the journey than he thought when Chip shares a mysterious letter, bringing to the surface secrets buried since Hiero’s fate was settled. In Half Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan weaves the horror of betrayal, the burden of loyalty and the possibility that, if you don’t tell your story, someone else might tell it for you. And they just might tell it wrong… (Serpent’s Tail)

Arifa Akbar, The Independent

Half Blood Blues shines with knowledge, emotional insight, and historical revisionism, yet it never becomes over-burdened by its research. The novel is truly extraordinary in its evocation of time and place, its shimmering jazz vernacular, its pitch-perfect male banter and its period slang. Edugyan never stumbles with her storytelling, not over one sentence. The few weaknesses in the plot, such as they are, simply don’t matter.

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Kate Saunders, The Times

A superbly atmospheric prologue kick-starts a thrilling story about truth and betrayal … [A] brilliant, fast-moving novel.

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Anthony Cummins, The Daily Telegraph

The motor for the plot is a 1992 documentary on Falk, in which a bandmate claims that Sid shopped him because he was a love rival. The documentary also features an ingeniously discreet insertion of some vital context, as a scholarly talking head describes the history of black people in Nazi Germany. The information adds to our appreciation of the novel, but — crucially — isn’t allowed to determine it.

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Bernadine Evaristo, The Guardian

Despite the book’s blurb tantalising us with promises of a black German experience, this novel is really about Sid … It’s hard to care about this selfish and, it transpires, malevolent man … In spite of this, Edugyan really can write, and the final chapter is redemptive.

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Edmund Gordon, The Sunday Times

The trouble is that Half Blood Blues can no longer be treated as it deserves — as a punchy and atmospheric, if ultimately slightly lopsided, second novel — but must be approached as if it were one of the six best novels of the year; an idea so ludicrous that it becomes a lens through which the story’s faults are enlarged, and its virtues diminished. Making the Man Booker shortlist will doubtless be a very good thing for the author — for her profile and her purse — but it’s an out-and-out disaster for the book.

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