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Half Blood Blues Essays

Half Blood Blues Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion on Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan.

Half-Blood Blues is a novel by author Esi Edugyan. The story follows the main character, Sidney Griffiths, as he recounts his experiences while touring through Europe as a jazz musician prior to the Great War. During Sid's time in Berlin and Paris, he meets one of the greatest trumpet players in history, Hiero Falk.

Sid portrays himself as Hiero's friend and protector. When something comes between the two young musician, Sid ends up betraying Hiero Falk. Sid hides Hiero's visas, which can allow Hiero to escape the Nazis and so Hiero ends up being captured by the Nazis.

As the novel unfolds, Sid finds out that his oldest friend, Chip Jones, has been receiving letters from Hiero Falk, whom Sid and Chip thought was dead. Hiero goes by Thomas now and requests that Chip come to visit him where he lives in Poland. While Chip and Sid are returning to Europe, Sid is narrating the story of what happened between him and Hiero.

Ultimately, it is a woman, Delilah Brown, that comes between the two young men. While Hiero makes some moves that spurs a competition between the two men, Sid invokes the ultimate betrayal by essentially turning Hiero over to the Nazis, where Hiero ends up in a concentration camp.

In this coming of age story, Sid has to deal with the guilt of felling responsible for the betrayal and murder of his friend. When Sid is able to admit his wrongdoing, he also is able to come to terms with his mistakes when he is forgiven.

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The second novel from Victoria’s Esi Edugyan finds the writer not only at the top of her game, but utterly transcending even the high expectations created by her first novel, 2004’s The Second Life of Samuel Tyne. Half-Blood Blues is the sort of ballsy, brave, explosive novel we see too rarely, and have been conditioned not to hope for.

The novel interweaves two chronologically distinct storylines, both revolving around journeyman jazz bassist Sidney “Sid” Griffiths. The first narrative strand is set in Berlin and Paris in 1940. Forced to flee Germany, and drawn by a vague offer to record with Louis Armstrong, Griffiths and his bandmates – including drummer Chip Jones and trumpet virtuoso Hieronymus “Hiero” Falk – escape to Paris, where they discover a world succumbing to the racial hatred and Nazi power they thought they had left behind. Their lives are overtaken by squalor, constant fear, and thin hopes for escape. Hiero, a mixed-race German citizen, is arrested by the Nazis and lost to history, save for a few scattered recordings that have engendered, over the decades, a significant cult following.

The second narrative is set in 1992. It follows Sid and Chip as they journey back to Europe in search of their lost bandmate, hoping to come to peace with the past. Chip has publicly accused Sid of complicity in Hiero’s arrest; the accusation, and their search, provokes a re-examination of events more than a half-century old.

As befits a novel about music, Half-Blood Blues is a stylistic delight. Sequences set in the 1940s capture a rhythmic patois, while sequences set in the 1990s employ a considerably more formal, though richly inflected, voice.

The novel is far more than an exercise in style, however. It is a quintessentially human story, rich in well-drawn characters, primal emotional conflict, and a battered, flawed camaraderie. It is an exploration of the impact of history on individuals, of how moments of grace get lost in a world of hatred, how fear imperils any sense of dignity, and how friendships can form between the most disparate people. It is a stunning, powerful read, a compelling story brilliantly told, and well-deserving of its inclusion on both the Man Booker Prize shortlist and this country’s own Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist.

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