As I sat down to write this tonight, I found myself thinking about my wife Debbie. She's in California for a conference this week, so that's probably the main reason she's on my mind. But I'm also thinking about how difficult it is for me to recommend a book to her. I've got nearly a thousand books on my bookshelf, but when she asks me to pick something for her to read, I freeze. She's not into genre or pulp fiction, but she balks at slow, literary stuff. I know Debbie better than anyone else, but when it comes to books, I'm at a complete loss.
Though I do know what I wouldn't suggest to her, and I wouldn't suggest Esi Edugyan's Half-Blood Blues. Personally I didn't mind it. The voice was authentic-- or at least, as I'm in no position to judge, it felt authentic, which is more important. The narrator, Sid, an American jazzman who lived in Berlin at the brink of WWII, has an infectious slang unlike anything I've read before. I also enjoyed the themes of jealousy and redemption. Sid, otherwise likeable, is woefully jealous over the prodigious talent of his much younger bandmate, Hiero. Which brings me to another positive: the perspective. I thought telling the story through Sid, and not the up and coming jazz phenom, was a stroke of brilliance. But-- and here's why I wouldn't recommend it to Debbie-- it was terribly slow. I enjoyed the ending, but I have to admit, it was a long time coming. I have far more patience for character-driven books than she does (we had quite the debate over Carol Shields' Unless), but even I yawned on occasion for Half-Blood Blues.
On a side note, I was quite intrigued by Berlin's "human zoo" that is mentioned only briefly. I had no idea such a thing really existed and I was especially interested in the mention of the "Eskimo specimens" on display. I know there have been other cases where Inuit people were kidnapped and brought to foreign lands, but the zoo brings it to a whole new level of inhumanity. I did a little Internet research (I Googled and found a Wikipedia page) to see what I could find on the topic and that's where I learned of Abraham Ulrikab. While Ulrikab wasn't technically kidnapped, and he wouldn't have appeared in 1940s Berlin, his story would be similar. His diary was published in 2005 and I'd love to get my hands on a copy. A few month's ago I asked my readers which Canadians they'd love to read a full biography of, but of whom none yet exist, and I didn't quite know who to suggest myself. This past month I found not one, but two contenders: Everett George Klippert and now Abraham Ulrikab.