Jennifer's Reviews > Coming Through Slaughter

Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje
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's review
Nov 30, 2011

it was amazing
Read in February, 2012

A fictionalized account of the New Orleans cornetist Buddy Bolden, supposedly the creator of the genre of jazz, who was institutionalized and died in an insane asylum in 1931.

This book is slow to grow on the reader. At page 40, frustrated by its ellipses and blank spaces (literally--some pages have only a sentence or two on them) I would have given it 2 stars. But slowly the music of the book starts to come clear, the jazz-like phrasing and style of it, and as Buddy slides toward his inevitable end it became painfully gripping. Ondaatje sentimentalizes neither music nor madness, and resists giving an easy meaning to Buddy's life and personality. There is a haunting quality to capturing a musician when no recordings of his work survive, a feeling of grasping at something essentially ephemeral, like the person himself. There's a beautiful scene where a third party remembers hearing Buddy play something new, something he'd never imagined before: "Thought I knew his blues before, and the hymns at funerals, but what he is playing now is real strange and I listen careful for he's playing something that sounds like both. I cannot make out the tune and then I catch on. He's mixing them up. He's playing the blues and the hymn sadder than the blues and then the blues sadder than the hymn. That is the first time I ever heard hymns and blues cooked up together." The awe and strangeness of jazz through new eyes is worth the price of the book alone.

Not an easy book to read, but when I put it down I wished I had someone to talk to about it, and that's definitely a mark of a five-star book for me.


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