HALF-BLOOD BLUES

In Edugyan’s second novel, finalist for the 2011 Man Booker Prize, some jazz musicians find their music and lives endangered in Nazi Germany and occupied Paris. 

Paris 1940. Nazis everywhere. The musicians are huddled in a shabby apartment. One of them, without papers, goes out on a reckless search for milk. Bam! He’s arrested and deported to a German camp. Edugyan (a Canadian of Ghanaian descent) has incorporated the novel’s climax in this taut opening. Just who are these guys? Two of them, the well-delineated Sid Griffiths and Chip Jones, are lifelong friends from Baltimore. Chip the drummer is black; Sid, the bass player and narrator, is fair enough to pass for white. (He refuses.) 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, the kid (he’s barely 20). Trumpeter Hiero fronts for the band and is the central character. He’s mixed race (African father, German mother), but it’s hard to remember he’s German when we only hear him use black American slang (overdone). 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. There is some sag in the second (Parisian) half, as Sid stews in self-pity and jealousy of Hiero, before the latter’s deportation. A coda, awkwardly interpolated, finds Sid and Chip in Berlin in 1992, where shocking allegations in a documentary on Hiero test their friendship.  A memorable evocation of the defiant thrill of jazz at a terrible time.   

 

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-250-01270-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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