Trent McClellan on Half-Blood Blues


Last year's champ returns! Trent McClellan will be our guide to the Canada Reads experience. Follow along as he blogs and tweets about the 2014 edition of CBC's battle of the books. His blog posts will appear on the Canada Reads website every week. Follow him on Twitter @Trent McClellan for his complete Canada Reads 2014 coverage.

Hello Canada Readers! I write this from a plane in the sky heading to Maui. I've never been but I hear it's a tad warmer than the frozen Calgary I just left. This flight is far longer than I thought it would be and my legs are cramped once again. Aisle seats are the worst invention since new Coca Cola. Sometimes I think I would have more room in the overhead compartment. I may try that next time so I'll keep you posted. I also witnessed a first on the connecting flight that is not really conducive to this blog but shall be talked about when I hit the stage. Unreal!

I'm listening to music as I write this, which is fitting as today I am blogging about Half-Blood Blues. This book was as smooth as the jazz these characters loved so dearly. It's set in the heart of Europe during the Second World War, and is about musicians who are trying to find a place to belong while playing the only music they know. This novel takes on a lot with regards to a changing Europe and black musicians who feel more at home there than back in their native United States. It was also fascinating to follow the experience of black Germans at that period in time. The story is fiction with a history lesson intertwined and as an individual who studied history I found it a great read. It flowed well like all great jazz and I felt a real connection to the characters because they too were entertainers at heart chasing a dream. The perspective of the story was also one which was unique to me and had me hooked to find out more about the black experience in Europe as Hitler's power grew.

Half-Blood Blues lets the reader consider the things that bond us and tear us apart. The bonding agents of music, camaraderie, shared experience and the fight to survive were prominent. The great divides were the age-old notions of jealousy, fear, insecurity and racism. The story offered keen insight into the push and pull that exists between groups and individuals when these forces are at play. We often have a better understanding of our world when we look at global conflict through the eyes of a character, whether real or fictional. The real struggle for these characters was one of trying to be accepted. Will they ultimately and wholeheartedly accept each other even though they have varied backgrounds? Will they find a country and political climate that will accept them as a result of their profession, race or nationality? Would these characters accept their impending fate or fight to survive?

This book is also about the love of music. It's about individuals who were willing to risk their lives in pursuit of their art. The irony being that music and especially jazz is about feel and timing. These characters continually seemed to be victims of bad timing and their instincts were often clouded as a result. Jazz music was their passion but also their escape from the injustices of society and a ruthless war. It was the sunshine on a dark continent.

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I've written the second half of this blog in Maui while the waves crash the shore. Beautiful! One guest at this condo said their only complaint was that the waves were too loud! Really? Nature was too loud for you even though you chose to stay on a beach. There's no way we're top of the food chain. I'm beginning to think that many of us in the developed world don't know what hardship is. As I was reading Half-Blood Blues I thought about how lucky I am as a "half-blood" performer to be able to do what I love anywhere I chose. Readers can't help but consider how different the world was during the Second World War and how far the world has come. I also thought about passion and how life-saving it can be. Sidney and his crew just wanted to make music and were willing to risk their own lives to do so. In was a reminder that's what life is about. Living is doing what you love and not doing what you love is exactly like dying.

Donovan Bailey will have to get creative to convince his fellow panelists that this book should be the final book standing. Not because of its message but because it geographically is not set in Canada. Can he relay that Half-Blood Blues message is universal enough to make it the Canada Reads champion? We shall soon see!

Trent is on tour! Check out his Live Once Comedy Tour in Ottawa, Toronto, Fort McMurray, Lethbridge and Edmonton during the month of March. Tickets are available through

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