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12 Bar Blues,
This review is from: Twelve Bar Blues (Paperback)This is a mesmerising, hypnotic and soulful story that spans many generations and several continents. At its heart are several different themes - jazz music, race and in particular what it meant to be black in the early twentieth century, love and loyalty.
There are a few intertwining stories which eventually link. One of the main ones follows the fortunes of a young black boy called Fortis 'Lick' Holden as he grows up in a large, poor household in Mount Marter, Louisiana, at the turn of the twentieth century. This part of the tale is recounted in the snappy, drawling black vernacular of the time, and is full of warmth, good humour, family sagas and almost audible tones of sweet jazz and blues. Lick becomes a talented horn player and travels to New Orleans in search of his 'sister' Sylvie, who was actually the daughter of his mother's half sister but was brought up in the same house.
Interspersing this long, engrossing, and simultaneously moving and hilarious tale are other accounts. One is of an African chief, Tongo, at the end of the twentieth century, and his naughty witchdoctor Musa, who ploughs through spells and women at a rate that worries even himself. Musa is a descendant - or reincarnation - of another witchdoctor a couple of hundred years before, who cast a spell that changed history and the destiny of several people and their descendants. Meanwhile, the educated and goodnatured Tongo frets about whether he loves his wife or not. The African part of the novel is as entertaining and easy to read as Alexander Mccall Smith's stories about the Number One Ladies' Detective Agency, which are also set in Africa. There is much to smile at and there are also fascinating insights into African culture.
The final strand of the story follows an English prostitute named Sylvia as she searches for her roots and her true identity. She meets up with a warm-hearted young alcoholic by the name of Jim, and the pair make an unlikely couple as they search for her past.
The whole novel is eminently enjoyable. Traumatic and touching episodes sit side by side with raucously funny anecdotes and likeable characters. It's sobering to consider how many poor black women were forced into prostitution as late as the mid twentieth century because of the lack of an alternative means of earning money. With its vast colourful cast of characters and its lashings of passion, history, music and family, this is a book that will keep you hooked until the end.