As you will probably read in any review/mention of this novel, Edugyan’s strength in Half Blood Blues is the lyricism of the language; incredibly evocative of the jazz world she creates. In Berlin, 1939, The Hot Time Swingers face trouble when their music is forbidden by the Nazi government that is taking over. As the political conditions worsen, the group must flee to Paris, but not before a member of the group, Hiero, a young mixed musician, is captured. Mysteriously, he isn’t heard from again. The rest escape to Paris to meet Louis Armstrong – a connection they make through a mutual friend, Delilah Brown. Fast forward to 1992, when an old Hot Time Swingers vinyl is recovered, and a documentary about Hiero is produced, the members of jazz ensemble must reconvene and face what really happened that night. Sid, the only member who knows the full story, must break his silence; a history that challenges his past friendships.
Throughout the novel, Edugyan uses slang terms that create vivid, memorable characters and dialogue that speaks to the complications of mixed appearance in this time period:
[Hiero] was a Mischling, half-breed, but so dark no soul ever like to guess his mama a white Rhinelander. Hell, his skin glistened like pure oil. But he was a German-born, sure. …And add to this the fact that he didn’t have no identity papers right now – well, let’s just say wasn’t no cakewalk for him” (9).
I was an American…Son of two Baltimore quadroons, I come out striaght-haired, green-eyed. A right little Spaniard. In Baltimore this given me a soften ride than some. I’d be lying if I said it ain’t back in Berlin too. …any Kraut approaching us always come straight to me” (9).
Check out Edugyan’s website and the video below for an interview with her about the novel and winning the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
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