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Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

Post Date: January 30, 2013 by josiemounsey

Dialogue!  Dialogue!  Dialogue!


Rhythm and cadence permeate the dialogue in this heart-wrenching story, transporting the reader from the smoky bars of 1939 Berlin to the salons of Paris, where a group of black jazz musicians struggle for their lives and music.  Hovering in the background, the menacing beat of the approach of war.


Desperate to get out of Berlin after a skirmish with ‘the Boots,’ the group is offered the chance to cut a record with Louis Armstrong in Paris.  Things don’t go well, and the dialogue is rich with signs of their frustration.  Holed up in the mysterious Delilah Brown’s Paris apartment, Sid Griffiths, the narrator, tries to dissuade 20-year-old Hiero Falk, a talented horn player, from venturing out on to streets patrolled by the Nazis.  “What you doin?” (Sid asked).  “Hiero, what you doin, kid?”  Hiero responds:  “What you mean, what my doin?  You ain’t never seen a man put on his shoes before?  Well, stick around, cause it’s bout to get excitin.  I’m gonna put my damn coat on next.” (p.7)


Like the music, the narrative drifts back and forth as the twists and turns of friendship, betrayal, love, and jealousy unfold, while Europe hurtles into chaos.  Edugyan evokes the fear which ran through Paris as a tidal-wave of refugees flows out of the city.  Then eerie silence before the cobblestones reverberate with the approaching boots of German troops.


1992 finds Sid and Chip Jones (drummer) on a ramshackle bus rattling through Poland.  Scenery slips past:  “In time we passed through dead fields.  Passed makeshift barriers tangled with rusted barbed wire.  Passed ancient wooden houses left to rot like so much garbage.  I known places like that.  Reeking of harsh soap and cheap tobacco, their living rooms full of doilies, cobwebs, widows.” (pp.185/6)  Edugyan’s haunting descriptions mirror Sid’s feeling of desolation as he hugs a terrible secret:  the memory of what he did in Paris.

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