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Half-Blood Blues    by Esi Edugyan order for
Half-Blood Blues
by Esi Edugyan
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2012 (2012)
Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

Half-Blood Blues is a story of what could have happened to jazz musicians in Europe during World War II. Since the German leadership viewed such music as decadent, players had to go underground. The novel is so realistically written that I actually looked up the names of the book's main characters to see whether they existed. They didn't, but we do get to know a bit about Louis Armstrong, Josephine Baker and Bill Coleman.

A certain mixed-race blues group, The Hot-Time Swingers, has had moderate success in Berlin and is angling for a gig with Louis Armstrong. The Krystallnacht (night of broken glass) means that they have to leave Berlin - fast. How they get to France (where they finally meet up with Armstrong) forms the background of the story. Fifty years later one of the group tries to bring what's left of them together again. And this is where all the hidden jealousies and secrets come out, and where those who have been wronged have to decide whether forgiveness is a viable option.

This is a riveting story, and not just for jazz lovers. The author knows how to get across what it is like to be the other in a dangerous land. However, writing from African-American Sid's point of view, Edugyan may have tried a bit too much with her other characters. The German gentile, German jew, and black Germans are not really fleshed out enough, although their music soars and the black and male talk ring true. We feel for Sid, who was a natural leader but who couldn't quite live up to the abilities of the other musicians he loved.

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