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Recommended Fiction: Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

by Pamela Tarajcak on 2023-01-25T08:36:47-05:00 in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Library Circulation, Literary Criticisms and Reviews, Music, History, Literature, English | 0 Comments

"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, all of us still reeling from the rot--rot was cheap see, see, the drink of French peasants, but it stayed like nails in you gut. Didn't even look right, all mossy and black in the bottle. Like drinking swamp water." (3)

Cover ArtHalf-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
Call Number: 813.6 E38 2012
ISBN: 9781250012708
Publication Date: 2012-02-28
Location: Youngstown
Collection: COBAA Book Grant
Pages: 317
Chip is part of an all African American Jazz band in Paris before the Nazi incursion in WWII.  These men are reveling in the freedom that pre-War Paris brings, in direct contrast to the horrors of the Jim Crow South from where they came. In no time, however, they are brought to the horrors of surviving the Nazis, whom they call Boots, in Paris.  Hiero, one of the band members, gets beaten on a regular basis.  One of their friends who has the double misfortune of being both Jewish and gay is "deported." Nevertheless, the band tries to keep their humor and their music alive.  They try to produce an artsy record that will later be named Half Blood Blues (really nice title for a book).  In intervening chapters, a documentary producer in 1992 is trying to find out what happened to the members of the band.  He discovers that the one member, Hiero, is still alive.  The members of the band have to struggle with whether or not to reunite with him.  We then go back and forth to learn what happened to the band and especially Hiero, who will end up also "deported." 
Edugyan wrote a masterpiece here.  The book takes a common topic and presents it in a fresh way.  By concentrating her book on people of color in Europe during World War Two, she makes the reader broaden their vistas of knowledge on this topic. The reader is forced to admit that people of color existed in Europe during the War and, given the racial purity mindset of the conquering Nazis, they wouldn't be at all happy about people of color being there at all.  Therefore, Edugyan puts an intersectional twist in a topic that often becomes solely one note.  The prose is neat, sharp and crisp.  It makes the reading very easy.  Also, this book does something that I really love, it has the most brilliant dark humor.  Books that often deal with the heaviest of topics, like the Holocaust and Nazi invasion of Europe, become heavy in their tone.  It's like humor and joy dies when horrors begin.  That is often not the case.  People either try to have this hope and try to keep joy in their lives.  Or they have a sense of the inevitable, and drown themselves in pleasure.  This is what the band members do.  They drink.  They snipe sarcastically at each other and thumb their noses at the rest of the world.  It felt more realistic than the often turgid tones of other historical fictions set at this time.
In short, Half-Blood Blues is a brilliant masterpiece about an often undiscussed facet of World War II history.  You may not fully enjoy the work, because of its subject matter, but  it is a really good read.  The book won the Scotiabank Giller Prize and was a finalist for the Man Booker, both really deserved as it is a stunning book.  

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