I just finished reading Esi Edugyan's new novel, Half-Blood Blues. It's been getting a lot of hype lately, being nominated for not one, not two or three, but four major literary awards (Man Booker, Giller, Governor General's and Writers' Trust).
The book follows the story of a group of jazz musicians in Berlin in 1939, just as the Nazi nightmare reaches full scream. It centres on the relationships between three core members of the Hot-Time Swingers: bass-player Sid Griffiths, drummer Chip Jones and wunderkid trumpeter Hieronymous Falk. The group also includes Ernst von Haselberg on the "licorice stick," Franz Bayer on alto sax, and piano player Paul Butterstein. Delilah Brown is a singer of the same calibre as a Bessie Smith or a Billie Holiday: never as well-known, but certainly as tragic. Edugyan brings all these characters, with their diverse upbringings and various mother tongues, to living, breathing, squeaking, pounding, honeyed, brassy life.
The tale pitches back and forth between the making of their last (and lost) record in an abandoned recording studio in occupied Paris, and present-day Baltimore and Europe, where a documentary film about the group brings up painful memories and reveals wartime secrets.
I'm interested in checking out some of the books Edugyan cites at the end of her novel, such as Destined to Witness: Growing up Black in Nazi Germany, and Harlem in Montmartre: A Paris Jazz Story Between the Great Wars. I will leave you with some music by Louis Armstrong, one of the real historical figures who plays a part in this story. Here's Potato Head Blues, with Armstrong's Hot Fives, featuring Johnny Dodds on clarinet: