Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Half-Blood Blues and The Last Nude


Half-Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan, is a complicated, fascinating story about a group of Jazz men struggling to perform and record in Berlin and Paris just as the second World War breaks out.  "The Hot Time Swingers" have been forbidden to play live in Berlin in 1939, as jazz and blues have been deemed subversive by the government.

A contemporary story line, set in 1992 sets up the suspense.  The group's talented trumpeter, Heironomous Thomas Falk, who Louis Armstrong called "Little Louis" is being honored at an international festival to which other members of The Hot Time Swingers have been invited.  The honoree, Falk is presumed to be dead.

The author returns back to 1939, where we meet Delilah, a mysterious young woman with connections to Louis Armstrong who helps The Swingers escape to Paris in hopes of playing with the great Armstrong.  After meeting the music legend, the goup's bassist, Sid, is unwillingly replaced, and the group struggles to record with Louis amid blackouts, violence, and his failing health.

It took a little while for me to get into the book, as the author uses a great deal of slang.  Each group member speaks different languages, which is reflected in their dialogue.  I'm really glad that I stuck with it though, as character and story lines are very well done, and set against an interesting time in history.

The book was a finalist for The Man Booker Prize in 2011.

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The Last Nude, by Ellis Avery, is a captivating blend of literary historic fiction and romance. I was sorry when this book was over.

The setting is 1920's Paris, the jazz age, a time of art and artists, revolution and love. Polish artist Tamara de Lempicka meets Rafaela Fano, a 17 year old Jewish girl who has escaped her overly strict New York family and made her way to Paris. Rafaela would become the model for six of Lempicka's most famous paintings; notably "Beautiful Rafaela", called one of the 20th century's most famous paintings.

The story, seen through Rafaela's eyes (except for the last chapter) moves quickly as Tamara and Rafaela evolve from artist and model to lovers.  Other historical figures appear in the story, lending a historic resonance to the book. Politics, love, drama, intrigue, art and music, this book has it all. 

I would recommend this to lovers of historic fiction and art.  Set in the same era as The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer and the very popular The Paris Wife, fans of those books and those who enjoy literary fiction should enjoy The Last Nude.

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