The book that could change Canada: Half-Blood Blues

Is Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan the book that could change Canada?

Represented by: Donovan Bailey (with the cutest headshot, I might add.)

I read Half-Blood Blues for my book club when it had just been awarded the Giller Prize. This book takes place in pre-war Europe, Germany and Berlin, and follows Hiero, a black, German trumpet player of extraordinary skill. The story is told by Sid Griffiths, however, another musician working with Hiero. One day, Hiero is arrested and never seen again. 50 years later, Sid and his friend Chip are participating in a documentary about Hiero and a mysterious letter sets Sid on a track to come to terms with his past.

I really liked the fact that this novel was fresh – pre-war Europe, a black, German musician – it wasn’t a story I had been told before. Hiero is a character you can really connect to, and the way Sid treats him is unfortunately all too familiar and it’s an interesting story of jealousy.

Alternatively, this book seemed underdeveloped and I was quite surprised that it won the Giller. Maybe I’m a sucker for a big, thick, book, but I think that this book stopped and started at two different places without fully telling either story. It seemed dis-jointed. It also has scenes with Louis Armstrong that  didn’t actually happen in real life. I feel that historical figures should be woven into a story if there’s historical proof behind certain events taking place, though that’s just my personal preference.

I think this book is up against some pretty big contenders and might have a tough road ahead as the book that could change Canada. Let’s hope Donovan Bailey is up to the challenge!

Just because it’s the best, let’s relive this gem. One of those “where were you when” moments for me.

When the books were announced, I was lucky enough (read: 10 year old self freaking out) to meet Donovan and ask him a few questions about His involvement in Canada Reads and why he chose to champion Half Blood Blues. To the latter, Donovan said that he saw a lot of himself in Heiro. He could also relate with different cultures mixing together. Even more than that, however, was the atmosphere of working with a “team” (the band) under intense pressure to accomplish something really important and special. That aiming for success with an obsessive perfectionism of repeating something, be it a scale or a 100 m dash over and over until it was perfect.

Donovan didn’t think that because this book takes place outside of Canada that it will be a problem. “I’ve been to 191 different countries,” he said. “Canada is a melting pot of people and culture. How many hyphens do we need before we throw everything out and just call ourselves Canadian? There’s conflict within all of us, and everyone shows who they truly are throughout the book. That’s relatable.”

When asked how he felt his experience has prepared him to defend Half Blood Blues, Bailey quipped, “Well, I’m a huge Stephen Lewis and Samantha Bee fan, so…”

Wishing Donovan the best of luck representing Esi in this competition!


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