Cover image for Twelve bar blues
Twelve bar blues
Neate, Patrick.
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Publication Information:
New York : Grove Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
400 pages ; 24 cm
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Winner of the prestigious Whitbread Novel Award, "Twelve Bar Blues" is an epic tale of fate and family, jazz and juju that spans three continents and two centuries to tell a story of enduring roots and indelible love.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This sprawling novel, winner of Britain's Whitbread Award, jumps between continents, centuries, and points of view to tell an incredibly complex story--Roots as a polyphonic jazz symphony. At the center is Lick Holden, "the greatest horn player that was ever lost to history." Lick's story itself has enough strands to fill a healthy novel: growing up poor near New Orleans in the early days of the twentieth century; a childhood spent largely in a home for black juvenile delinquents, where he learns the trumpet; a brief but meteoric period of playing music with the greats of the period, including Louis Armstrong; a doomed but passionate love affair with his mulatto stepsister. Neate intercuts Link's story with that of his African ancestors and descendants and his granddaughter, Sylvia, a black English former prostitute, who journeys to America in 1999 to come to terms with her multiracial past. There are wonderful moments of transcendent prose here, but, finally, there is just too much plot, moving in too many directions. A grand conception, not completely realized, but worth the effort for its passion and power. --Bill Ott

Publisher's Weekly Review

Neate's novel (winner of the Whitbread) poses the question: Can an English writer pen the great American jazz novel? In the 18th-century African kingdom of Zimindo, a Zimindian named Zike is abducted by complicated magical/erotic means and eventually ends up on the slave market in New Orleans. There Zike disappears from history. A descendant, however, blows his way, if not into history, at least into legend. Fortis "Lick" Holden from Mount Marter, La., is a cornet player of the same generation as Louis Armstrong. Lick learns his licks in reform school. His mentor, Professor Hoop, keys him into the secret of the whole musician, which entails using all four parts of the body. Lick progresses from his chops to his head to his heart, but he doesn't get the fourth part down the groin until he meets back up with his adopted sister, Sylvie, who is pale enough to pass for white. After Lick returns from New Orleans to his native town, he discovers Sylvie living as the quadroon mistress of a white plantation owner. Lick's affair with her spells disaster in the racially charged atmosphere of the South, but Sylvie escapes to New York City, passes for white and marries an Italian man. Her skin color skips a generation, but expresses itself luxuriously in her granddaughter, Sylvia Di Napoli, who thereby arouses the wrath of her racist father. The novel waltzes between Lick's woes and Sylvie's genealogical quest, with a subplot involving the return to Africa of another of Zike's descendants, Coretta Pink, aka "Olurunbunmi Durowoju." Neate's story is shot through with salient observations about jazz culture, although in the end it doesn't grab the brass ring: the great American jazz novel is yet to be written. Agent, Jim Rutman, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

For his debut, music journalist Neate won the Whitbread Novel Award with a jazzy premise: musician Lick Holden can charm all of New Orleans in the early 20th century, but all he wants to do is locate his missing stepsister. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.