By Esi Edugyan
Picador, March 2012
$15, 336 pp.
Sid Griffiths and Chip Jones, two African-Americans, and Hieronymous Falk, an Afro-German, were members of the Hot-Time Swingers, a multiracial and popular German-American jazz band that performed in Berlin and Paris in the late 1930s and early 1940s. At the onset of WWII, the Nazis barred the band from playing live. In 1940, after a recording session, the Gestapo arrests 20-year-old Falk in a café. Fast-forward to 1992, Sid and Chip arrive in Berlin to attend the screening of a documentary film about the trumpeter Hiero during a weeklong festival in Falk’s honor. The title of this captivating and suspenseful novel comes from the name of the band’s legendary record. Esi Edugyan is an inventive storyteller; she has an ear for the argot of the jazz milieu of the time and combines it with lively action and convincing characters. A Man Booker Prize finalist in 2011 (this is the book’s American debut), Half-Blood Blues is a story of friendships, the interpersonal struggles
and survival, and racial politics during a devastating time
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarcera-tion in the Age of Colorblindness
By Michelle Alexander
The New Press, January 2012
$19.95, 336 pp.
In 2010, Michelle Alexander published a bold account of the modern-day criminal justice system. In the book’s Introduction, she states that “the United States imprisons a larger percentage of its Black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.” Alexander argues that the rise of the Black inmate population is not due totally to “criminal” behavior. Alexander affirms that the injustice of mass incarceration is by systematic design. Alexander, a civil rights attorney, contends that the so-called War on Drugs launched in the early 1980s was actually a war on race. In this well-researched book, she says that today’s criminal justice system is equivalent to Jim Crow in the sense that it functions with the purpose of social and racial control. “We have not ended racial caste, we have merely redesigned it.” This new edition of The New Jim Crow includes a Foreword by Cornel West and some updates. Alexander advocates a multiracial, multiethnic movement to take place for radical changes to occur.
—Reviewed by Clarence V. Reynolds