Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan-The story of Jazz and Black People in Germany

half-blood-blues-combinedI read this book in late 2012. Even today, I can’t find a word strong enough to describe how I felt afterward .

When I picked it up at Chapter’s Indigo on Saint Catherine street, I didn’t know much about the author or the book. The only thing that attracted me was that the author was Ghanaian.

But first, as usual, a word about the author. She is a 33 Ghanaian-born Canadian living in British Colombia, Canada. She is actually a new author, this is her second novel. Her debut novel – The Second life of Samuel Tyne – was published in 2004 and was critically acclaimed nationwide. The author, Esi Edugyan, studied at the University of Victoria in Canada and at the Johns Hopkins University in the US. She also held fellowships in the US, Scotland, Iceland, Germany, Hungary, Finland, Spain, and Belgium. I guess that is why most of her stories happened in Europe. Well, the two stories that I know about anyway.

The characters are a mix of black, german and African american. At first, I had a problem following the story because of the language that was used in the book. It is a mixed of german (actually it is a german slang translated in english ) and of a baltimore slang bar. To top it all, there are a few words of french here and there. Once i got used to it, i just had to marvel at the author talent. It is breathtaking, really.

The novel. Well, Where do I started from? This is the story of Jazz and german-born black people. Yes, you heard right jazz and black people in Germany? This was my reaction as well. Reality or fiction? But let me tell you right away, that black people really lived in Germany and played jazz there. Of course, that was before Hitler started his campaign. You don’t have to take my words for it, do you own research on the subject. I will provide a lists of references at the end of this posts. These references were originally provided by the author.

The story happened at the eve of the second world war. It all started in Germany then went on to Paris, to the US and to Poland.The main themes are Jazz, race, Nazis, friendship, world war II, betrayal, sacrifice and reconciliation.

The principal character is a young jazzman who plays trumpet. His name is Hiero. Their band is completed by two others Jazzman :Chip Jones and Sid. The band was formed by a jew in pre war-germany. The story will take us from Berlin in 1939 to Paris in 1940 when Hiero is arrested by the “Boots” and send to a concentration camp, never to be seen again. Fifty years later, a movie is being made on Jazz, Sid and chip must speak about their story. The story goes back from present to past and from past to present. In Fact, the books started with the three of them being in Paris in 1940 and Hiero being arrested. Then, it moves on to the present which is Berlin 1992 and then it went back to the past in Berlin 1939 and so on so forth.

Once you get used to the language and the set up of the story, you start enjoying yourself. Even Louis Armstrong and Sidney Poitiers made an appearance in the story somewhere. The central theme is Jazz, but in the background, the nazis are getting organized.So you got a background of war and resistance.

I am really happy, I read this book. It changed my perspective of Germany. Because of the Hitler episode, I had never really imagined that Germany used to be a normal place before the campaign. Black, jew and caucasian german were all living together in Berlin. Jazz was being played in clubs. It was all quite normal. Then, the campaign started slowly until it reached the point where all jews had to go underground. Then, we all know what happened afterward – concentration camp and jail in Poland. What is new though is that black people were also being sent to those camps.

This is really an emotional read. Between the war and the race issue inherent in the story, you must get ready for it. But I truly enjoy it, I adore jazz so it was a win-win situation for me anyway. I definitely recommend you this book, if you want to read something different and new.

References books on Black In Germany

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  1. Hitler’s Black Victims: The Historical Experiences of Afro-germans, European Blacks, Africans and African-American in the Nazi Era, Clarence Lusane, Routledge,2003
  2. Different Drummers: Jazz in the culture of Nazi Germany, Michael H. Kater, Oxford University Press, 1992
  3. Destined to witness: Growing up Black in Nazi Germany, Hans J.Massaquoi, Hapercollins, 1999
  4. Harlem in Montmartre: A Paris Jazz Story Between the Great Wars, William A. Shack, University of California Press, 2011

Have you read this book if yes, how did you find it?As always, Send us your opinion at utneemtree@gmail.com, we will be happy to post it on the blog or do comment directly under this post.

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2 responses to “Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan-The story of Jazz and Black People in Germany

  1. Pingback: What I read in the first half of 2013 and where I am heading for the rest of the year | Under the Neem Tree·

  2. Pingback: The Second Life of Samuel Tyne by Esi Edugyan | Under the Neem Tree·

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