Half-Blood Blues A Novel

Esi Edugyan




Trade Paperback

336 Pages


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Winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize

Winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Prize

Winner of the British Columbia Book Prize's Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize

Shortlisted for the Orange Prize

Shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize

Finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction

Finalist for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize

A New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice

A San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book

Berlin 1939. The Hot-Time Swingers, a popular jazz band, has been forbidden to play by the Nazis. Their young trumpet-player Hieronymus Falk, declared a musical genius by none other than Louis Armstrong, is arrested in a Paris café. He is never heard from again. He was twenty years old, a German citizen. And he was black.

Berlin, 1952. Falk is a jazz legend. Hot-Time Swingers band members Sid Griffiths and Chip Jones, both African Americans from Baltimore, have appeared in a documentary about Falk. When they are invited to attend the film’s premier, Sid’s role in Falk’s fate will be questioned and the two old musicians set off on a surprising and strange journey.

From the smoky bars of pre-war Berlin to the salons of Paris, Sid leads the reader through a fascinating, little-known world as he describes the friendships, love affairs and treacheries that led to Falk’s incarceration in Sachsenhausen. Half-Blood Blues is a story about music and race, love and loyalty, and the sacrifices we ask of ourselves, and demand of others, in the name of art.


Praise for Half-Blood Blues

"Shines with knowledge, emotional insight, and historical revisionism . . . Truly extraordinary in its evocation of time and place, its shimmering jazz vernacular, its pitch-perfect male banter and its period slang."—The Independent

"A superbly atmospheric prologue kick-starts a thrilling story about truth and betrayal . . . [A] brilliantly fast-moving novel."—The Times (London)

"Ingenious."—The Daily Telegraph (London)

"Assured, vivid, and persuasive . . . Impressively evocative of period and place, and an effortlessly involving and dramatically unusual second novel."—Sharon O'Connell, Time Out (London)

"Mesmerizing . . . Edugyan has a perfect ear for conversations and the confusions of human love and jealousy . . . Moving . . . A remarkable novel."—The Morning Star (London)

"With Half-Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan has written a truly beautiful novel. With perfect pitch, and brilliantly in tune with the diction, musicality, suffering, and dignity of Black jazz musicians trying to survive in France and Germany during World War II, and to hold their lives together in the aftermath of horror, it is both taut and expansive, like perfect jazz. Exquisite language, throughout."—Lawrence Hill, award-winning author of Someone Knows My Name

"Simply stunning, one of the freshest pieces of fiction I've read. A story I'd never heard before, told in a way I'd never seen before. I felt the whole time I was reading it like I was being let in on something, the story of a legend deconstructed. It's a world of characters so realized that I found myself at one point looking up Hieronymus Falk on Wikipedia, disbelieving he was the product of one woman's imagination."—Attica Locke, author of Black Water Rising

"The characters in Esi Edugyan's stunning novel bring to mind Mark Twain, who understood characters like these . . . The language of Edugyan's narrative moves us with its intrinsic power, grace, and soulful jazz cadences. Half-Blood Blues is an engrossing and unforgettable story."—Austin Clarke, author of The Polished Hoe and More

"Half-Blood Blues offers a gripping and original portrait of the stateless, those 'lost in the dark maw of history,' but whose stories are proving ever more crucial for citizens today. Yet, for me, the real allure of the novel is the mongrel and enduring beauty of its language. Like a gifted jazz performer. Esi Edugyan knows how to make new phrasings and cadences hit big upon the heart."—David Chariandy, author of Soucouyant

"Unforgettable . . . Brilliantly conceived, gorgeously executed. It’s a work that promises to lead Black literature in a whole new direction."—The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

"Destined to win a wide audience . . . Deftly paced in incident and tone, moving from scenes of snappy dialogue, in which band members squabble and banter humorously, to tense, atmospheric passages of description . . . Edugyan makes fresh tracks in this richly-imagined story . . . Half-Blood Blues itself represent a kind of flowering—that of a gifted storyteller."—The Toronto Star

"[Edugyan's] style is deceptively conversational and easy, but with the simultaneous exuberance and discipline of a true prodigy. Put this book next to Louis Armstrong's West End Blues—these two works of art belong together."—Jury's Citation, Scotiabank Giller Prize

"In Edugyan's novel . . . some jazz musicians find their music and lives endangered in Nazi Germany and occupied Paris . . . They arrived in swinging Berlin in the 1920's and joined forces with three German players. Years later, one of the Germans discovered a jazz prodigy, Hieronymus Falk . . . Trumpeter Hiero fronts for the band and is the central character. He's mixed race, but it's hard to remember he's German when we only hear him use Black American slang. He's also a student of the classics and reads Herodotus. All this is a heavy burden for young shoulders, and it's hard to locate the individual inside the mystique. That mystique, however, causes Louis Armstrong, in 1939, to summon Hiero and the band to Paris to cut a record. His emissary is the beautiful, light-skinned singer Delilah, with whom Sid falls disastrously in love. Another disaster ensues when he messes up at the recording session; but Hiero soars, leading Satchmo to call him Little Louis . . . A memorable evocation of the defiant thrill of jazz at a terrible time."—Kirkus

"Edugyan’s novel . . . 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 Hieronymus 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 and 1992. 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."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Half-Blood Blues
IParis 1940Chip told us not to go out. Said, don't you boys tempt the devil. But it been one brawl of a night, I tell you, all of us still reeling from the rot--rot was cheap, see, the drink of French peasants, but it stayed like nails in you gut. Didn't even look right, all mossy and black in the bottle. Like drinking swamp water.See, we lay exhausted in the flat, sheets nailed over the windows. The sunrise so fierce it seeped through the gaps, dropped like cloth on our skin. Couple hours before, we was playing in some back-alley studio, trying to cut a record. A grim little
Read the full excerpt



  • Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan--Audiobook Excerpt

    Listen to this audiobook excerpt from Esi Edugyan's acclaimed novel Half-Blood Blues, narrated by Kyle Riley. Berlin, 1939: The Hot Time Swingers, a popular jazz band, has been forbidden to play by the Nazis. Their young trumpet player Hieronymus Falk, declared a musical genius by none other than Louis Armstrong, is arrested in a Paris café. He is never heard from again. He was twenty years old, a German citizen. And he was black.



  • Esi Edugyan

  • Esi Edugyan has a Masters in Writing from Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, including Best New American Voices 2003, ed. Joyce Carol Oates, and Revival: An Anthology of Black Canadian Writing. Her debut novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, was published internationally. It was nominated for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, was a More Book Lust selection, and was chosen by the New York Public Library as one of 2004's Books to Remember. Edugyan has held fellowships in the US, Scotland, Iceland, Germany, Hungary, Finland, Spain and Belgium. She has taught creative writing at both Johns Hopkins University and the University of Victoria. She currently lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

  • Esi Edugyan Steven Price




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