Half Blood Blues-Esi Edugyan
nationality: Canada (of color)
"The aftermath of the fall of Paris, 1940. Hieronymus Falk, a rising star on the cabaret scene, is arrested in a cafe and never heard from again. He is twenty years old. A German citizen. And he is black. Fifty years later, Sid, Hiero's bandmate and the only witness that day, is going back to Berlin. Persuaded by his old friend Chip, Sid discovers there's more to the journey than he thought when Chip shares a mysterious letter, bringing to the surface secrets buried since Hiero's fate was settled. In Half Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan weaves the horror of betrayal, the burden of loyalty and the possibility that, if you don't tell your story, someone else might tell it for you. And they just might tell it wrong ..."
I'm sure there must be a word for when a book is well written and you know it has all the elements of a good book but there's just something...lacking? So, told through this unreliable(?) narrator, this is an anxious war time book full of the languid prose of the jazz the band makes. The occupied city of Paris, the very danger of the occupation, oozes through every word. The novel is dark feeling like the windowless rooms they hide out in and everything seems potentially malevolent. The patois and the banter scream boy's club in the best way.
But then you have the modern voice of old men rehashing old stories and worries and the juxtaposition undermines each other. You really want to know what happened to Hiero and the details about the levels of the Nazi attitude to blackness (and the resulting stigma of course) have you thinking about the worst but allow enough wiggle room for the best but the book ends up feeling like a slog through towards the answer. It was like reading an academic article and just wishing the conclusion had occurred 18 dense pages ago. It kept me reading though so that's definitely something.