I first heard about Half-Blood Blues the week before the Scotiabank Giller Prize. After reading the synopsis I knew it would be the winner. Not to toot my own horn but I know how to call ’em!
There is no denying that the prize was well deserved. Esi Edugyan’s use of dialect is instrumental in composing the tone of the story and the relationship between the members of the jazz band. Her characters leap off the page; I fell in love with Chip even though I cringed at every other thing he said. But it is the structure of the book that captured me. Edugyan’s novel is, at its core, a beautifully crafted tale of friendship. By shifting the action back and forth between 1940 and 1992, Edugyan lets the reader get to know Sid and his friends at two very different periods of their lives. Over the course of the retrospective narrative I learned so much about Sid’s motivations and insecurities that when the final twist was revealed I was shocked but forgiving.
Half-Blood Blues was an excellent read. Through the experiences of young black musicians, Edugyan reveals an aspect of history that I never considered: the lives of blacks in WWII-era Europe. Hiero’s statelessness broke my heart especially since this is an issue that many people still face. The commentary on race is woven in delicately but it cannot be ignored. This book is an eye-opener that will easily stand the test of time.