The secretive Peak District book club were looking forward to reading this book. It has World War two, jazz and adventure (sort of): what’s not to like?
But while parts of the book were quite interesting, we were disappointed with the book as a whole. I say the book as a whole – only two members finished it, which is unusually low even for us.
The story follows a group of jazz musicians who lived and played in Berlin and Paris in the 30s and 40s. There are two narratives to the story: the 30s / 40s one and a present-day one in which two of the band mates travel to Berlin for the première of a documentary about a third band member who was arrested by the Nazis in Paris and sent to a concentration camp. Both stories are told in the voice of Sid Griffiths, the bass player with (what I presume to be) Memphis pronunciation, slang and all. It was shortlisted for the Booker and Orange prizes.
The scenes set in Berlin in the 30s and Paris in the 40s were well researched and engaging. The character who is arrested, for example, is a black German, and there were very few of those in the 1930s – I didn’t know that. However, most of us felt that the characters were really quite thin, and the narrator’s accent didn’t help. To be fair, perhaps that was because I’m not familiar with the accent in question and so struggled to “hear” Sid’s voice in my head. We also thought that the modern-day plot was far-fetched (as far as we read up to, that is) and even the two members who finished the book commented that the ending was very unrealistic and disappointing.
A quite resounding thumbs down, then, to this book from our group. Perhaps I’ll go and listen to some Jazz.