October 17th, 2011

book and cup

#102 Half Blood Blues - Esi Edugyan (2011)

The aftermath of the fall of Paris, 1940. Hieronymus Falk, a rising star on the cabaret scene, is arrested in a cafe and never heard from again. He is twenty years old. A German citizen. And he is 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. In Half Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan weaves the horror of betrayal, the burden of loyalty and the possibility that, if you don't tell your story, someone else might tell it for you. And they just might tell it wrong ...

This is the fourth of this year's booker shortlist that I have now read.

I loved this novel! Atmospheric, poignant and enormously readable, I actually found it hard to put down. Beautiful writing with such a wonderful sense of time and place that it perfectly transports the reader to the jazz cafes's of Berlin and Paris in the 1940's. Narrated by American Sid Griffiths, Hiero's bandmate, now 83 years old, in an unforgettably, authentic, musical voice. It is through him we see the first uneasy days of WW2 in Berlin, and later the occupation of Paris. Sid, his old childhood friend Chip, and Hiero share a flat with the beautiful Delilah in Paris 1940, and it is while waiting to get out of Paris, in a cafe one day that Hiero is arrested, with Sid the only witness. Fifty years later Sid and Chip travel back to Berlin for a celebration of the music of Hieronymus Falk, which has been made famous by the discovery, some years earlier, of lost recordings hidden in a Paris flat. When Chip reveals some mysterious letters to Sid, it throws everything into turmoil, forcing Sid to look again at the past and his part in it. This is a remarkable story of friendship, betrayl and guilt. It is also a celebration of jazz, with even the mighty Louis Armstrong playing a part, when Sid, Chip and Hiero get to meet the great man, who arranges for them to play with him.
I found the story of Sid and Chip's friendship, and the uneasy relationship between Sid and Hiero beautifully told and really quite touching.