Book Review: Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

Half-Blood BluesHalf-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s about jazz, the war and, most importantly, jealousy.

In Midnight in Paris, a decidedly jazzy film, nervous writer Gil (Luke Wilson) asks Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stall) to read his manuscript for him.

Ernest: My opinion is I hate it.

Gil: I mean, you haven’t even read it.

Ernest: If it’s bad, I’ll hate it because I hate bad writing, and if it’s good, I’ll be envious and hate it all the more. You don’t want the opinion of another writer.

The same could be said for musicians.

I’ve often felt like that around other singers. I know it’s a faux pas to admit that the green-eyed monster of jealousy wraps its scaly claws around my throat on occasion, but it’s the truth. The trick is to remind yourself that your monster is only a figment of your imagination. How you choose to deal with it–let it choke you, or put it back in its place–determines the success of your life, not just your musical career.

In Half Blood Blues you see just how devastating jealousy can be when it grips you. It serves as a warning to those who can’t control their actions when they feel they’ve been wronged. Sid Griffiths lives a mean and bitter life, haunted by the ghost of Hiero Falk, one of the world’s greatest jazz trumpeters and a former bandmate of Sid’s, whose life and career end abruptly on the streets of Paris during World War II. Hiero and Sid lived, breathed and played jazz in Berlin with a small outfit that included keys (Paul Butterstein), drums (Chip Jones) and sax (Fritz, the hulking German) until the war came knocking on their door.

In the present Sid is invited by Chip, his’s oldest friend, to a festival in Berlin commemorating the release of a new documentary about Hiero. He reluctantly agrees to come back to Berlin only to be transported back to the time and place that he tried so hard to push away after returning to America.

The prose is written in black American dialect from the 40s and 50s, as it’s narrated in the first-person by Sid, interspersed with beautiful metaphors that cut through the patois into the heart of the pathos. I’m not surprised that Edugyan was awarded for this release. It’s carefully and beautifully written. It speaks to the heart of a musician’s fears, which is a timeless theme, set in a historical period many can relate to.

My heart was racing as I finished this book.

I gotta stop reading war novels! But I think Love in the Time of Cholera might be calling me next… We’ll see. 🙂

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