Half Blood Blues: From Berlin to Paris. Two Friends. One Betrayal by Esi Edugyan tells the story of three black jazz musicians who find themselves in Berlin at the beginning of the Second World War. They manage to escape to Paris where they make contact with Louis Armstrong, but their relief is short lived as France declares itself at war too. Our narrator Sid and his childhood friend Chip are American so return visas are a possibility, but the young genius among them ‘the kid’ Hieronymous Falk is a black half German and the friends can’t leave him.
The books jumps back and forward in time between the 40’s and the 90’s, tantalisingly giving you bits of the story, but never everything until the end. It has to be one of the most powerful descriptions of the Paris occupation I have ever read, as well as being a story of the ups and downs of friendship, the good natured banter over the years but also the darker side of jealousy and betrayal. It was very different to my usual uplifting and lighthearted books set in France, but certainly something that made me think. With lots of themes running through the book, jazz music, war, race and friendship it is quite full and complex too.
I will admit that it took me a while to become comfortable with the way this novel is written. Told through the voice of Sid it is written in a black slang dialect that didn’t flow in my head the way English does, but did make for a far more realistic read. However it also made it a slower read than my normal books.
This book is published by Serpent’s Tail and available in both paperback and ebook. Links to Amazon can be found below. I read this book as part of a review for the website Trip Fiction who highlight books set all over the world, ideal for the armchair traveller.
For more ideas on summer reading see here.