On my charity shop rounds last week, I picked up a copy of Esi Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues. The blurb says “Hieronymous Falk, a rising star on the cabaret scene, was arrested in a cafe and never heard from again. He was twenty years old. He was a German citizen. And he was black. Fifty years later, Sid, Hiero’s bandmate and the only witness that day, is going back to Berlin.”
I’ll admit, it wasn’t really what I expected at all; but it was so, so good, just in a different way to what I thought. I thought that Hiero’s disappearance would be the main plot (it’s not a spoiler, it’s in the blurb, and it’s the first thing that happens in the book), but it’s actually far more about Sid than it is about Hiero. In fact, at the end of the book, I had more questions about Hiero than answers. Sid, however, turned into a really believable, likeable character.
It’s set around a group of jazz musicians in 1940, who flee Berlin for Paris in an attempt to escape the Nazis. Some of them are American, some Jewish, some white, and some black. Hiero is black, and German, but classed as ‘stateless’ under Nazi law. I had honestly never heard or read a story about Afro-Germans before, and what they encountered during the Holocaust. I think the fact that it focuses on an unusual group of people adds to what makes this such a good read.
On Goodreads, I gave this 4/5 stars, mainly because there are things about Hiero that I wish had been answered. I guess that’s the measure of a good book though, when you genuinely care what’s happened to characters in between the pages of what’s written.
Half Blood Blues was nominated for the 2011 Man Booker Prize, and I also picked up that year’s winner on my shopping trip, Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending. Of the two, I enjoyed Half Blood Blues far more. (I don’t think I’m going to bother to do a review of The Sense of an Ending, ultimately, it just irritated me by trying to be too clever in too few pages, and I’d figured it out way before the end and wanted it to be better.)
Have you read either of these, or Edugyan’s other novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne?