Best of Canada: "Half Blood Blues" by Esi Edugyan


I first reviewed Half Blood Blues in November of 2011 after it was nominated for and won the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize.  It also won the 2012 Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and the 2012 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.  It was shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize, 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction and the 2012 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.  It was also a finalist for the 2011 Governor General's Award for Fiction and the 2011 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, in addition to many other honours.

In 1940, war had spread throughout Europe. In Paris, a brilliant young jazz musician named Hiero was arrested by the Nazis. He was a German citizen and Black. Hiero was never heard from again.

Fifty years later his friend and fellow musician Sid, who was there the night he was arrested, is at the premiere of a documentary chronicling Hiero's life. The film spurs Sid to relive their time together, a time of brilliant music and culture but also of trouble, racism and war.

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan is an engaging, stunning and original novel set in a time that continues to haunt our world. It is a unique story to emerge from the time period of World War two, giving a voice to to the many stateless people who were lost during that time. What makes this story so gripping is the way it is woven with the beauty and soul of the jazz scene the time.

The narrative is in an incredible language of the time, a sort of German-American slang, peppered with jazz and flavour. The use of this language really brings the story to life, makes the characters and their emotions jump off the page. Reading the book you can feel the relaxed, expressive energy of the characters while at the same time feeling their troubles and fear. It is a difficult thing to do, to take oppressed people and make the reader feel their joys despite their troubles, and Edugyan does this very well.

Half-Blood Blues was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize as well as the three major Canadian literary prizes. Just yesterday it was announced that the book won Canada's most prestigious prize, the Giller. This book is very deserving of all its praise. This is Esi Edugyan's second novel, and at thirty-four years of age, she has a promising career ahead of her. This was the book I predicted as the Giller winner and I strongly believe that Edugyan has opened wide a path to becoming one of Canada's great literary voices.

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