Thursday, January 9, 2014 |
Half-Blood Blues is one of the five contenders for Canada Reads 2014. It's being defended by Olympic champion Donovan Bailey during the debates March 3-6. If you haven't had time to read Esi Edugyan's award-winning novel yet, never fear! The Canada Reads team is here to give you what you need to know about this book so you can head to that cocktail party (or, uh, book club -- we won't tell!) with confidence.
1. It's set mostly in the 1940s...and the 1990s
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by Harris & Ewing
Half-Blood Blues tells two interconnected stories. First, there's the up-and-coming jazz band, known as the Hot-Time Swingers, in Germany in the late 1930s and early '40s, trying to make it big just as Hitler rises to power. Some of the band members flee to Paris, but the Nazis invade France and one of the musicians, Hieronymous Falk a.k.a. The Kid, disappears, presumably forever. Then, there's the story of how two of the surviving band members travel to a conference in 1992 in honour of Hieronymous, and must come to terms with what happened way back then.
2. It's told from the perspective of Sid Griffiths
Sid is the narrator of Half-Blood Blues and was the bass player in the band. He grew up in Baltimore with his friend Chip, who played drums. They two of them were introduced to jazz at an early age. They eventually head to Europe to escape the racism they faced in North America and to follow their dreams of making music. Sid's narrative voice is unique, and reflects a blend of his jazz influences, his European travels and his upbringing in Baltimore. "It's an approximation of the kind of hybrid language he and his band mates were speaking at the time," Edugyan explained to CNN.
3. Louis Armstrong makes an appearance
Louis Armstrong performing in Paris in 1965. (Photo AFP/Getty Images)
Sid and Chip are fictional, but their story is similar to many real-life jazz musicians of the day, including Bill Coleman and Louis Armstrong. When Louis hears about the Hot-Time Swingers and their troubles in Paris, he sends someone to help them out. The band members get a chance to meet their idol as well. So what happens with Louis? We're not telling. Read the book to find out!
4. There's a Canadian character
Delilah Brown is the only major female character -- but she's an important one. She grew up in Montreal and fell in love with jazz there. She later gets connected with Louis Armstrong. She's sent to help the Hot-Time Swingers get out of Paris and becomes one of Hiero's biggest advocates and supporters. She also develops a hot-and-heavy romance with Sid.
5. Half-Blood Blues is the name of the band's infamous recording
The band in the book makes a single album -- Half-Blood Blues. It's 3 minutes and 33 seconds of pure jazz genius. Esi Edugyan listened to artists like Sidney Bechet, Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong while writing the book. Edugyan said that while writing Half-Blood Blues "music was my constant companion, even more than books."
6. It's won a lot of awards
Esi Edugyan accepts the Scotiabank Giller Prize award for her novel Half-Blood Blues in Toronto on Tuesday November 8, 2011. (The Canadian Press/Chris Young).
Half-Blood Blues was published in 2011. That year, it was nominated for a slew of awards in Canada and abroad. Overseas, it landed on the shortlists for the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Man Booker Prize. In Canada, the books' accolades included nominations for the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction and the Rogers Writers' Trust Prize for Fiction -- and it won the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the biggest prize for fiction ($50,000!) in Canada.
Highlights from Canada Reads: