Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
This was my first foray into the world of audio books, and I’m not sure it was the greatest place to start. The narrator had a really deep, smooth voice. I could imagine him reading me to sleep, lulling me with his rich tones – not a great feature when driving!
Half Blood Blues is about Sid Griffiths, a Jazz musician living and plying his trade along with the band in 1930s Berlin. They are forced to flee to Paris to escape “the Boots” (i.e. the SS) after an incident in which Sid’s oldest friend and band mate Charles “Chip” Jones kills one of them in a fight. They cannot outrun the war though which catches up with them in Paris. One of the band members is a young man called Hero, who is a brilliant trumpeteer. Sid struggles with conflicting emotions towards Hero – part jealously, part rivalry, part very protective and brotherly. Hero is a stateless citizen – a Rhineland bastard, who is taken by the Nazis when the war arrives in Paris, whilst Sid watches on and does nothing to help. His enormous guilt about this stays with him for his whole life until it comes to ahead more than 40 years later when he returns to Berlin.
I found Sid quite a difficult character to like. He seemed to take everything so very seriously, and very personally. He was quick to over analyse situations and to imagine he had been slighted. His jealousy towards Hero was petty and seemed to border on genuine dislike at times.
This book can be quite slow in parts, and in particular the love story between Sid and Delilah. This dominates the middle section of the book and too much time is devoted to it in my opinion. In spite of the tendency to drag in parts, there is some really top quality writing on display. In particular, the scene in which the group are trying to get a train out of Paris to escape before the Nazis arrive is so vivid. The sheer chaos, terror and stench of human panic is tangible as everyone presses like herded cattle into the station with whatever belongings they can carry, desperate for a ticket out of there.
The real highlight of the story for me is the relationship between Sid and Chip. They are boyhood friends and half the time they don’t seem to even like each other. But underneath all of that is a real unbreakable bond – they truly are brothers. Some of Sid’s actions in the book are quite unforgivable, but Chip stands by him and is there for Sid when he needs him the most.
The ending seemed to be very abrupt. I’m not sure whether this just comes down to listening to it as an audio book as I cannot then see how much is left to go.
It took a while for me to get into this book and there were points where my interest started to drift in the slow parts. I didn’t really warm to Sid very much. However, the writing was good, the story is memorable and there are a few moments that made me chuckle, which I think is important when dealing with such serious subject matter.