HALF-BLOOD BLUES by Esi Edugyan (Thomas Allen), 304 pages, $24.95 paper. Rating: NNNNN
If you're wondering how a novel gets on all of Canada's major prize short lists, reading Half-blood Blues tells you everything you need to know.
Start with a rare tale about black experience under Hitler, add the creative factor - the main characters are jazz musicians - and then throw in some superb writing and you have a magic formula.
Edugyan tells the story of musicians Chip and Sid, old friends from Baltimore who converge in Paris and begin making spectacular jazz music with their genius saxophonist, Hiero Falco.
But when the Nazis invade, declare jazz degenerate and threaten all non-Aryans, the boys go into hiding. Jealousy and betrayal ensue.
The story deftly shifts from 40s Paris to Poland in the early 90s, where Chip and Sid travel after attending a screening of a documentary on Hiero's life. On one level it's a suspense tale about personal survival in wartime; on another, it's about love-hate relationships among friends.
But what makes the book spectacular is the voice, Sid's from a first-person perspective, and the dialogue. The hipster talk - much of it invented by the author - sounds strangely out of time, as if it could come from the mouths of contemporary characters. Yet you never doubt the story's WWII setting.
And when Edugyan writes about the music, you can feel it vibrating in your bones.