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Books 21-22: To Kill a Mockingbird and Half Blood Blues

Book 21: To Kill a Mockingbird.
Author: Harper Lee, 1960.
Genre: Modern Classic. Coming of Age. Period Fiction. Racial Issues.
Other Details: Paperback. 309 pages.

'Shoot all the Bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a Mockingbird.'

Atticus Finch gives this advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of this classic novel - a black man charged with attacking a white girl. Through the eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Lee explores the issues of race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s with compassion and humour. She also creates one of the great heroes of literature in their father, whose lone struggle for justice pricks the conscience of a town steeped in prejudice and hypocrisy.
- synopsis from UK publisher's website.

This is the first time I have read this modern classic although I have wanted to for ages. I had seen the film adaptation some years back; though in this case the novel proved to be a richer experience as it not only focused upon the case that Atticus Finch was defending but gave details of various episodes over the period of a few years in the lives of young Jem and Scout Finch during the Depression.

It proved a very rewarding experience, which deeply stirred my emotions. All the members of the library reading group found it a powerful experience and well deserving of its status as a modern classic.

Book 22: Half Blood Blues.
Author: Esi Edugyan, 2011.
Genre: Period Fiction. 1930s-40s Germany/France. Racial Issues. War. Music.
Other Details: Paperback. 343 pages.

The aftermath of the fall of Paris, 1940. Hieronymus Falk, a rising star on the cabaret scene, was arrested in a café 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. Persuaded by his old friend Chip, Sid discovers there’s more to the journey than he thought when Chip shares a mysterious letter, bringing to the surface secrets buried since Hiero’s fate was settled. - synopsis from Orange Prize website.

I read this novel in 2012 as part of an Orange Prize for Fiction Shadowing Group and when it was selected for our local library reading group this month I took the opportunity to re-read it. As with my first reading (2012 Book 62), I found it an impressive novel, which style utilised some jive talk and other slang. It brought to the fore issues linked to race during the period and even though Half Blood Blues was set in Europe a few years later, it was interesting to read in the same week as To Kill a Mockingbird. The role of jazz in Germany between the wars along with other creative expressions deemed 'degenerate' by the Nazis was well portrayed here.

Overall the novel was well received by the reading group and stimulated a great deal of discussion on its themes. A couple of members did have some issues with the use of slang while others, myself included, felt that this was a key point of allowing the reader into this closed world of the musicians.
Tags: award winner, bildungsroman/coming of age, modern classic, period fiction (20th century), pulitzer winner, race
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