This book was ok. I didn't love love love it - I found it hard to get into (that could be because I was reading it amidst a house full of people, though). The language of the intriguingly-unreliable narrator seemed contrived (compared to George Rue, which did a better job of a similar patois).
I would have liked more music - she did a great job describing the first-person feeling of playing music, but a less good job really bringing the jazz scene in Nazi Germany / Paris in the 30s to life.
(as karen says in her fantastic review
, Edugyan favours character for historical detail).
Still, I did love the descriptions of how the music sounded
, filtered as they were through Sid's personal and professional jealousy:
The first time Sid and Chip play with Hieronymous Falk: "The kid nodded. He begun to tease air through the brass. At first we all just stood there with our axes at the ready, staring at him. Nothing happened. I glanced at Chip, shook my head. But then I begun to hear, like a pinprick on the air--it was
that subtle--the voice of a hummingbird singing at a pitch and speed almost beyond hearing. Wasn't like nothing I ever heard before. The kid come in at a strange angle, made the notes glitter like crystal. Pausing, he took a huge breath, started playing a ear-splitting scale that drawn out the invisible phrase he'd just played."
Worth noting, Sid claims he "hated it" - although describes everyone else crying and pretty much destroyed by their first and subsequent experiences of Hiero's horn playing, including Louis Armstrong.
It didn't get truly suspenseful until about p 250, and I thought that was too late in the game. Plus the ending seemed rushed after all that lead up, and a little too expository for my taste.
What I did enjoy very much was how the characterization and character arcs seemed to mimic the band and the playing of jazz itself: the lead trumpet player, "the kid" Hiero, being the star player whom we saw take the spotlight only occasionally, but in important and plot-moving ways; and the rhythm section - Chip and Sid (drums and bass) - anchoring the narrative in both timelines. Sid's feelings towards Hiero vacillated through a lens of jealousy and admiration and fear and guilt, and as the least accomplished musician and the narrator, this both held the story together and kept it moving more or less on pace plus set up much of the tension between all of the rest of the characters. That was an uber-clever structure.
Like I said though, I wanted more music and more of the musical (and racial) history of the time.