Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

 Edugyan’s second novel, shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize, pays a mournful tribute to the Hot-Time Swingers, a once-legendary six-piece German-American multiracial jazz ensemble gigging in Berlin on the eve of WWII. When the pianist is picked up by the Gestapo, the remaining members flee to Paris with forged passports to meet Louis Armstrong in hopes of cutting a record. After the German occupation of Paris, “the Boots” arrest Hieronymous (“Hiero”) Falk, the band’s 20-year-old-genius Afro-German trumpet player, leaving the band with one half-finished record, one shattered love affair, and one too many secrets. The story of the band’s demise and partial resurrection, as seen through the eyes of Sid Griffiths—the upright bass player—unfolds in richly scripted vignettes alternating between 1939/1940 (when Hiero disappears) and 1992 (when Sid and Chip Jones, the percussionist, revisit Berlin for a Hieronymous Falk festival and walk down memory lane). By the book’s end, readers will have pieced together most of the truth behind Sid’s biased recounting of events, but nothing will prepare them for the disclosure of an ultimate betrayal. While the rarely explored subject adds to the book’s allure, what stands out most is its cadenced narration and slangy dialogue, as conversations, both spoken and unspoken, snap, sizzle, and slide off the page. Sid’s motivation can feel obscure, but his lessons learned are hard-won all the same. Agent: Anne McDermid, Anne McDermid Associates. (Feb. 28)

Originally posted on PublishersWeekly.com January 2, 2012

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