Clifford’s Blues is narrated through the fictionalized diary of an African American jazz pianist who survives more than a decade in the Nazi concentration camp of Dachau. The novel begins with a 1986 letter from Gerald Sanderson to Jayson Jones. Sanderson asks Jones to read Clifford Pepperidge’s diary and to determine whether it might be published. The bulk of the novel consists of the diary itself, and the book concludes with a return letter from Jones to Sanderson. Jones is impressed with the achievement of Clifford’s diary and is committed to seeking its publication. He realizes, however, that because stories of black people in Nazi concentration camps are little known, it is ironically unlikely that sufficient demand will exist for it to be published.
Clifford’s diary itself—supposedly written over the course of twelve years on tissue paper, glazed paper, children’s writing tablets, wrapping paper, and the end pages of books in pencil, ink, and crayon—creates a compelling fictional world. It expresses the perspective of an African American houseboy witnessing the rise and fall of the Dachau concentration camp. Pepperidge’s background as the piano player in Sam Wooding’s jazz band provides a context and a vocabulary for his narration. Familiar with the jazz clubs of western and northern Europe, Pepperidge makes the mistake of engaging in a homosexual dalliance in Berlin with Malcolm, a low-level American diplomat who...
(The entire section is 571 words.)