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Half Blood Blues

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  15,298 ratings  ·  1,745 reviews
The aftermath of the fall of Paris, 1940. Hieronymus Falk, a rising star on the cabaret scene, is arrested in a cafe and never heard from again. He is twenty years old. A German citizen. And he is 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
Paperback, 343 pages
Published June 2nd 2011 by Serpent's Tail (first published April 11th 2011)
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Andrew Winner An "ax" is any musical instrument. While in the rock and roll dominated music world of today, folks largely use it to refer to a guitar, then (and now…moreAn "ax" is any musical instrument. While in the rock and roll dominated music world of today, folks largely use it to refer to a guitar, then (and now in the jazz world) it is your instrument. My jazz musician kids (now young adults) were told to "bring your ax" when they went to certain sessions because it was, essentially, an invitation to sit in for a few songs in the second set. The both play horns (trumpet and sax).(less)
Susan Jackson-Rafter I'm listening to the book, and it's pronounced hero-long E, long O.
I'm listening to the book, and it's pronounced hero-long E, long O.

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Average rating 3.69  · 
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 ·  15,298 ratings  ·  1,745 reviews

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i'm glad this book didn't win the damn booker. that just means it wasn't a complete snoozefest. Vernon God Little? thumbs down. The Gathering? bleah. Wolf Hall? zzzzz. G.?? not his best. and from what i hear of this year's winner, the barnes? is not positive reviews, kiddies.

so i'm glad this book escaped that label, because when this book is good, it sparkles like a thousand year old vampire in the sun. and i was halfway through before i realized this was an authoress. not that it matters, but t
Gregory Baird
"That was why I come. Not to find a friend, but to finally, and forever, lose one."

The downside of being an avid reader is that you can go through a great deal of books without really connecting to one. It's not that you're jaded, just that at a certain point it takes more to really impress you. There are, after all, only so many stories a person can tell, so plots become cliched, characters become familiar. But every once in a while a voice comes along that makes you sit up and pay attention. A
Oct 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: canada
This is a mystery to me. It has some excellent ingredients, but it doesn't meld into a potion that has any power to engage, and I can't quite work out why. The narrative voice I found warm, the friendly banter between characters amusing, the historical background of interest and well rendered, so what went wrong? Why did I end up hopping an' skipping over pages and pages, merely in order to find out if my suspicions were confirmed at the end? Yes, indeed, I had a horrible feeling that was exactl ...more
Megan Baxter
Jun 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Jazz under the Nazis, both in Germany and in occupied Paris. Friendship and betrayal in the worst of circumstances, when betrayal can literally lead to death. And then, years later, revisiting those haunts, those people, those betrayals. This is a really amazing book.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
Barbara McVeigh
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jennifer (aka EM)
Dec 20, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jennifer (aka EM) by: debra
Shelves: maple-flavoured
This book was ok. I didn't love love love it - I found it hard to get into (that could be because I was reading it amidst a house full of people, though). The language of the intriguingly-unreliable narrator seemed contrived (compared to George Rue, which did a better job of a similar patois).

I would have liked more music - she did a great job describing the first-person feeling of playing music, but a less good job really bringing the jazz scene in Nazi Germany / Paris in the 30s to life.

This is an extremely well written book—not surprising, I guess, since it was nominated for both the Man Booker and the Giller prizes. It took a period in history (the Second World War) that I care very little about and an aspect of that war that had never impinged on my consciousness (the Black experience of that war) and made me care very much indeed.

The story is told by Sidney Griffiths, a black jazz musician who is performing in Europe as the war is beginning. Sid is not a very likeable guy—
Jan 17, 2012 rated it did not like it

The premise of the novel is a good one: black Jazz band in Nazi Berlin...but it is TED I OUS...the plot is unfathomable, the writing is 'creative 101' oh, lets do first person...only it irritates the reader and fails on description and indeed, any form of engaging language.
After chapter two, I stopped, read a few more later in the book and the last chapter and was not disappointed - it went in the trash.

A poor plot, characters that do not engage, and only a page turned in so much as you long to
[3.4] An atmospheric novel about a jazz band set in 1992 and late 1930s Berlin and Paris. Mostly it is about the friendship and tensions between band members, African American and German, and how they deal with the encroaching Nazi threat. The novel has lots of interesting detail and riffs but it doesn't quite coalesce. I am impressed by Edugyan's writing and plan to read more of her. ...more
K.D. Absolutely
Dec 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommended to K.D. by: Booker shortlist 2011
I really enjoyed reading this book. I even thought that it was even a notch better than the eventual Booker winner last year, Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending. The only difficulty I had with this book is Edugyan's writing style. There are some sentences that are verbose. Her choices of words seem to me as not exact even using my limited vocabulary as the yardstick. Lastly, there also seem to to be some grammatically incorrect sentences. I first thought that the slight variations to conventi ...more
Feb 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In 1992 Chip Jones (a professional drummer) and Sid Griffiths (a base player as a young man) take a trip together back to Germany where they spent part of their youth during the beginning of World War II. They return as VIP's guests for the showing of a documentary based on their fellow band mate and trumpeter Hieronymus Falk's. It highlights Hiero legendary talent but it also peripherally covers their entire jazz ensemble. Chip makes some comments in the film that appall Sid, maybe because they ...more
Jan 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Sometimes two stories vie for attention: the story the author could have written and the one she actually did write. Such is the case with Half-Blood Blues.

If you come into this book expecting the promises of the publicist – in essence, the black German experience under the tyrannical rule of the Third Reich – you will find this book to be wanting. However, if you are looking for a book that delivers on what the author fully intends – an exploration of a one-time tight-knit jazz band with strivi
Aug 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I just finished this novel a little less than 5 minutes ago, and all I could do was hold my breath at its denouement.

The 2 main characters throughout the story are Charles C. Jones (better known as "Chip") and Sidney Griffiths ("Sid"), both African Americans, who met on the cusp of adolescence in Baltimore and later went over to Germany in the late 1920s to play jazz. Theirs was often a contentious, sparring kind of relationship that was kept strong by their common love for jazz.

The story alte
David Hallman
Nov 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’m not sure if there is a social trend going on, or if it’s just the books that I’m drawn to currently, or if literary prize juries happen to be sharing my particular obsession, but I’m reading a lot of books these days about memory.

Some of them are outstanding – Marilynne Robinson’s “Gilead” tops my personal favourite list and walked off with the Pulitzer Prize several years ago.

Some of them leave me quite cold – Julian Barnes 2011 Man/Booker Prize winning “The Sense of an Ending” falls into t
Jenny (Reading Envy)
It took a long time to get to this book. When it was nominated for the Booker, and then for the Giller prize, it still wasn't available for purchase in the USA. I even ranted about it in my blog.

Edugyan won the Giller prize for Half Blood Blues, and then was also included on the long list for the Orange Prize. I finally tracked a copy down, and I am so glad I did.

Half Blood Blues goes back and forth between 1939 in Berlin, 1940 in Paris, and 1992 in a handful of countries, circling around the wo
Apr 11, 2013 rated it it was ok
The story and characters sounded interesting, so I was curious to read the book. It could have been a special story, set in such an interesting time and locations, Berlin and Paris at the very beginning of WW-II. The characters should have also been people you don't normally encounter in a novel set at that time, i.e. guys in a black jazz band. Indeed, it could have provided some serious drama, as it is a known fact that Hitler c.s. severely objected to this 'depraved' music. However, it turned ...more
Emily M
Jan 17, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a damn fine book. The first and last quarter were in giddy five-star territory for me, the second two quarters and the last chapter more like four stars so I’m going with that, but I really, really enjoyed it.

The story is narrated by Sid Griffiths, a Baltimore native and light-skinned black jazz musician living in Berlin just before World War II. It’s not a perspective I would ever have expected to come across in a novel, but it really put a new spin on pre-war Germany and wartime Paris.
An unusual novel and Booker Prize finalist which uniquely brings to life the story of a group of young black jazz musicians in Berlin and Paris in the period before and soon after Hitler's takeover of France.

The narrative is told from the perspective of the bassist Sid, both then and fifty years later, as he heads from his home in Baltimore with his drummer friend from the old group to attend a documentary about them in Berlin. This revives memories of the disaster of the Nazi apprehension of t
Nov 10, 2011 rated it liked it
Okay. I really REALLY wanted to give this book 4 stars...

But the ending is so rushed I thought I'd somehow gotten a copy of the book that was short a few pages, which is impressive since I read it on my kindle.

The Ending is also a little too pat for my tastes. All along she's got this fantastic unreliable narrator who openly acknowledges that he's unreliable in the best of ways: By simply saying that he's old and doesn't really care. And this works well with the course of the story...until he s
Oct 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
So far I'm obsessed w/ this. It's amazing how Edugyan evokes the rhythm and feel of jazz with her storytelling and dialogue. What's more, the story explores fascinating issues of identity and politics with a light touch. And it's creatively structured to boot. I can't wait to see how this story begins/ends...

Update: This is one of my favorite novels in recent memory, maybe ever. It's difficult to put down, because it's just so propulsive. Edugyan is one of those big-hearted authors who can make
Mar 18, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
This book, well, It's probably more 3.5 stars.

I liked it. I did. It just wasn't my favourite book ever. I do think it was well done. It's definitely interesting. It jumps between present-day and Germany at the start of WWII and centres around a group of black Jazz musicians. I never really thought about the black community in Germany during the wars. When you think of the horrors committed against people during that time period, they're not the first group that comes to mind for obvious reasons.
Read: March 2018
Rating: 2/5 stars

I liked the idea behind the story; looking at the lives of a group of black musicians in Europe in the era around World War II. The book started strongly but I quickly lost interest as the novel starting jumping backwards and forwards in time. I also found Sid and Chip incredibly unlikable and was relieved to be finished with this book by the end.
Sep 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Half Blood Blues is an example of how a reread can change lots of things.

I read the novel back in 2011 but I did not absorb a thing. In fact I don't remember anything so I thought it should be reread.

I'm glad I did.

Half Blood Blues is a well constructed story. One that is about a jazz band who live in Berlin during the first year of the second world war and then they forced to go to Paris in order to record a song with Louis Armstrong. This does not work out and eventually the band's gifted tr
Nov 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
beautifully written and evocative, this novel was such a pleasure to read. i loved the examination of guilt, desire and love mixed up with the escalation of WWII. why people do the things they do - well, it's never usually very clear. people are terrific at creating their own beliefs about others and, often, distortions of truth are concocted. people are complicated, their actions can perceived to be simple. esi edugyan gets all of this, and has written such a heartbreaking story of friendship, ...more
Randall Klein
Apr 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I will go to my grave shouting about how Half Blood Blues is one of the best books of the past ten years. The publishing industry and the American reading public have a strange aversion to a lot of Canadian literary fiction, wherein a couple of larger names (Ondaatje, Munro, Atwood) break through, but everyone else gets caught in a net that prevent their sales and readership from reaching the levels down here that they do up there. Even taking this as a valid reason, it still doesn't explain why ...more
Barth Siemens
Nov 05, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Upon reaching the half-way mark, I've decided that I'm mostly cold about Half-Blood Blues. While there are a few good scenes, the awkward writing style is just too frustrating to wade through. Furthermore, the good parts don't seem to be tied together into a plot and there is no discernible character development. ...more
chantel nouseforaname
Wow, what a story.

So many layers. So many emotions.

First, the way that Esi Edugyan was able to capture the time, the emotions of the men during this time, the fraught-nature, anxiety and frailty of everything. It's a great feat of writing.

Edugyan is one incredibly talented writer.

Secondly, the stacking and interplay of stories in the book, from the story re: race relations, the strained love story between Sid and Delilah, all the tense friendships and jealousies. It was all skillfully put toge
Jonathan Pool
Esi Edugyan wrote Half Blood Blues seven years before her Booker shortlist (and Giller prize winner) Washington Black. I heard great things about Half Blood Blues, and actually preferred it of the two books. The time described, and the setting, is compelling- 1940; Paris and Berlin. The Nazi occupation. Esi Edugyan refers to Hitler as the “Housepainter”(77)- a clever reference to his early life career as drawer of architectural paintings.
The nature of race, and interracial discrimination is par
Aug 02, 2012 rated it liked it
TIP: You have to get past the 1st chapter to really get into this book and accustomed to the main character's so-called "distinctive German-American slang", because the rhythm is not typical and takes awhile to get accustomed to.
- After that, however, the pace and language becomes easier to read.
- Edugyan is a good writer, no doubt about that. There are certain phrases in the book which are just beautiful, BUT...
- The main thing that irked me immensely is the inconsistency of Sid's voice. I unde
Steven Langdon
Oct 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: super
Esi Edugyan has created a vivid and unique world in this story of betrayal, love and jazz -- within the grimly darkening shadows of the rise of Nazi Germany before World War Two. Sid and Chip are black American jazz musicians working in pre-war Berlin, where racism had been less grim than in the U.S. before the Nazi campaign for "Aryan purity" escalated; they connect with Hiero, a young genius with a trumpet, whose father was African while his mother was a white German. All become targets for Na ...more
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Esi Edugyan has a Masters in Writing from Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, including Best New American Voices 2003, ed. Joyce Carol Oates, and Revival: An Anthology of Black Canadian Writing (2006).

Her debut novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, was published internationally. It was nominated for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, was a More Book Lust se

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