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3.7 out of 5 stars
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3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 13 August 2013
This book tells the story of three black jazz musicians who find themselves in Berlin at the beginning of the Second World War. They manage to escape to Paris where they make contact with Louis Armstrong, but their relief is short lived as France declares itself at war too. Our narrator Sid and his childhood friend Chip are American so return visas are a possibility, but the young genius among them `the kid' Hieronymous Falk is a black half German and the friends can't leave him.

The books jumps back and forward in time between the 40's and the 90's, tantalisingly giving you bits of the story, but never everything until the end. It has to be one of the most powerful descriptions of the Paris occupation I have ever read, as well as being a story of the ups and downs of friendship, the good natured banter over the years but also the darker side of jealousy and betrayal. It was very different to my usual uplifting and lighthearted books set in France, but certainly something that made me think. With lots of themes running through the book, jazz music, war, race and friendship it is quite full and complex too.

I will admit that it took me a while to become comfortable with the way this novel is written. Told through the voice of Sid it is written in a black slang dialect that didn't flow in my head the way English does, but did make for a far more realistic read. However it also made it a slower read than my normal books.

I was sent a copy of this to review.
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on 29 January 2013
This was a book which was recommended to me and I had no idea what to expect.
What I got was a tremendously powerful evocation of Berlin and Paris during the war, and the effects of that period in history on the lives of a group of black or 'half-blood' musicians trying to make their mark in the jazz world. The characters jump off the page due in part to Edugyan's careful though unobtrusive research, and her skilful use of period slang, It feels authentic, it's extremely atmospheric and the ending (no, won't give it away) is a potent, deeply touching statement about forgiveness.

This is the kind of novel which makes you recognise and appreciate what it means to be human.
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on 10 May 2016
A strong three, mind. A gripping story - Edugyan is a fantastic storyteller, her characters strong and mostly complete. She deftly flips between 1939 and 1992, keeping us searching for the betrayal alluded to on the cover. Her historicity is superb as far as my knowledge can tell, and following this I'm fascinated by the story of Jazz in Europe pre-WW2. Fortunately there's a reading list!

I hope that I'm not going to give too much away if I say that perhaps the subject of this novel is friendship and loyalty. The cover states "Two Friends, One Betrayal", but actually this isn't right. There are more than two friends here, and more than one betrayal. Maybe we;re being asked to consider which two friends this novel is about, and which betrayal. Perhaps its just rubbish design from the publishers.

I enjoyed this novel very much, though despite shedding the odd tear at the end, I found its final throes unsatisfying. Again, not wanting to give anything away, I didn't really believe it. It didn't seem to be how that character would (indeed, could) react. But that's just my opinion, of course!
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on 7 September 2011
I just finished this novel a little less than 5 minutes ago, and all I could do was hold my breath at its denouement.

The 2 main characters throughout the story are Charles C. Jones (better known as "Chip") and Sidney Griffiths ("Sid"), both African Americans, who met on the cusp of adolescence in Baltimore and later went over to Germany in the late 1920s to play jazz. Theirs was often a contentious, sparring kind of relationship that was kept strong by their common love for jazz.

The story alternates in time between the years Chip and Sid spent in Europe (the novel's focus here spans from August 1939 to June 1940) and 1992, when both men --- now in their 80s --- return to Germany to take part in a film retrospective/discussion about one of their former bandmates, a dark-skinned Afro-German, Hieronymous Falk ("Hiero"), a jazz trumpeter in his late teens and a star in the making by virtue of his prodigious talent.

Sid and Chip had found it increasingly difficult to ekk out a living playing the music they loved in 1930s Germany, because the Nazis had branded jazz as "degenerate" and harshly suppressed it. Hieronymous was made a stateless person by virtue of his color. On the eve of war, their band broke up. But with the help of one of their bandmates (whose father was a wealthy industrialist), Sid, Chip, and Hiero were able to escape from Berlin to Hamburg, and into France. Paris proves to be a temporary haven for them (as well as Delilah, who was key to their gaining entrance to France) because by the following spring, the war rudely enters their lives. All must flee. Hiero is abandoned and picked up by the Germans. Years later, back in Europe, one of the 2 former jazzmen finds himself compelled to face his guilt and seek atonement.
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on 24 February 2013
I was looking forward to this book but it has become one of those rare books, for me, one I never finished reading. I just couldn't believe in the characters. It was rather dull. Good quality paper though (ha!)
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on 12 February 2012
I was reeled in by the rave reviews only to find myself bored with the characters and there was no suspense or intrigue for me. At no point did the author manage to evoke any empathy for the pretty much one dimensional characters, maybe you need to be a fan of the blues to enjoy this? I was pretty close to giving up on the book a few times, and only carried on out of a mistaken sense of duty. I wish I had the time back as this book was as flat as an out of tune, rusty old trumpet.
Avoid unless you're a fan of the blues as otherwise you'll end up with them.
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on 2 December 2011
This book is new and original. It is also a good book about musicians, and that is a rare subject done well. I've never read a book in these settings before, interesting descriptions of Berlin and then the fall of Paris in WW2. The style of writing might be a bit annoying to some, but it sounds authentic. Recommended.
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on 14 December 2011
The rich melody of 1930s-era jazz music follows the story of Chip Coleman and Sid Griffiths in this evocative tale set in the maelstrom of WWII. Outcasts due to their mixed-race heritage and cast as `Rhineland bastards' their work as Jazz performers is seen as nothing more than `degenerate art'. The tenacious troupe are forced to flee Nazi Germany in this compelling drama.
Mixed race Germans and black jazz players are not something one would associate with Nazi Germany, and Esi Edugyan's second novel capitalises on this, providing a refreshing and fascinating insight into a minority that has been little written about, despite the infamous subject of the Nazi reign.
In the darkest of hours, fighting against the potent Third Reich, the collection of ethnic band members run from Berlin to Paris; facing deception and treachery as they skim over borders clinging onto their forged nationality papers. However, fate is unmerciful when their leader Hieronymous Falk is abruptly arrested in a café, and all seems lost.
Years pass, and a glimmer of hope presents itself as Sid and Chip learn of their old friend Hieronymous is alive and well in Poland. In an emotional reunion, the two friends set out on a thought-provoking journey to answer their long awaited questions, yet betrayal lies around every corner.
Edugyan explores not only the politics of Nazi Germany, but also provides a valuable insight into human nature, relative to the time period. It is set in the first few months of the second world war, and whilst the characters sense the ambiguity of the unknown under Nazi dictatorship, they are naive to the extent of death that surrounds them; a theme which the reader can only see with hindsight through history. However, what is clear (and often haunting) to the reader is the true fear and premonition of the fate which awaits the characters.
Edugyan beautifully crafts the journey travelling between the 1940s and 1990s; her words encapsulate a sense of historical knowledge intertwined with a friendship that uses periodical male wit that lets the reader travel to the different time periods with the characters. The result is that the reader is able to reflect the characters judgments and motives and decide for themselves the final atonement.
Over the course of 50 years, from the streets of Baltimore as children, through to the fall of the Berlin wall, and the fall of a bitter old man's friendship, this novel is fused with passion, betrayal and raw human emotion. It is a read not to be missed, with its importance by the end overshadowing the infamous Nazi Reich Setting.
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on 19 February 2012
This is Sid's story. However much we want to know what happened to Hiero and enjoy the other characters created (Chip Jones in particular), this is ultimately Sid's story and how the events of 1939-40 seriously affected his life. The backdrops of both Berlin and Paris are beautifully painted and there is real feeling and melody in Edugyan's writing as she talks about the music and the way it affects her characters. Despite not being a fan of jazz in the slightest, this novel made me want to understand it. With violence, love and even guest appearances Bill Coleman and Louis Armstrong, this novel is pure melodious gold.
I don't' know what I was expecting when I picked this novel up but it certainly wasn't what I got and despite this, I still enjoyed it thoroughly. My only disappointment was the ending, after years of not knowing, Sid finally had a chance to get some answers but the reader is left hanging and Sid seems satisfied with this. The ending was perfect for the novel, there's no doubting that but there were plenty of loose ends still left, leaving me wanting more.
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on 15 June 2012
Half Blood Blues is a story of betrayal and redemption. It deals with the relationships of a group of jazz musicians in 1930s Berlin and Paris, their struggles with Nazism and the war, and the eventual resolution of their personal dilemmas many years later. The novel is structurally ambitious, with a mixture of real and fictional characters and an interweaving of different time scales. Above all, it sheds light on a little known aspect of twentieth century history, the experiences of black Americans and Europeans caught up in the horrors of National Socialism.
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