Date: September, 2011
Genre: Adult historical fiction, African-American
I'm not 100% sure how I feel about this book. On on hand, I absolutely loved the writing and dialogue. On the other hand, the plot was unsatisfying.
As a book about half-Black/half-German jazz musicians, I was hoping to learn more about that perspective. I didn't feel I learned anything new, which was a bit disappointing. My family is part German, and my grandfather served in the war. He told me some tidbits of history that are left out of general knowledge*, and I was hoping to learn something like that from this book. Instead of having the characters be part Black, I imagined them to be Jewish at points and found it difficult to draw the line on how they would have been different. The jazz music was the exception and I loved that aspect of the novel. It made me want to listen to some olden times jazz, just so I could better imagine how these characters could have felt. I also felt like I did care enough about the characters to want to learn more, especially Hiero. He was so mysterious for so much of the novel and I was really intrigued by him. I felt like I was more interested in him than the main characters, Chip and Sid. But perhaps his mysterious intrigue is what Esi was going for and perhaps it says something about Hiero that otherwise couldn't have been stated. What that is, I haven't figured it out yet.
Even with these faults, I loved the writing so much that it was still a great book to read. I was completely absorbed in the nuances of the dialogue and the overall slang used by the characters. There is history involved here, and I wish I knew a bit more about this period because I feel like I missed some very important references to historical places/situations. For that reason, I think this book would be a good one to re-read later, once I have learned more about Nazi Germany. It is also an amazing book to be heard read out-loud, which I had the privilege of listening to Esi read at an event.
I think if you are interested in Nazi Germany but want a slightly different spin on it via half-Black/half-German jazz musicians, then give this one a try. It emphasizes friendship and the love of music - two things you often don't associate with Nazi Germany! Despite the few things I didn't like about the book, I am still very happy I read it and I look forward to reading Esi's other novel soon.
* One of the things he mentioned was how German soldiers took over towns. The soldiers didn't want to do it but they had to follow orders or they would be shot in the head by a higher up German general or whatever.