Under the Visible LifeBook - 2015
Fatherless Katherine carries the stigma of her mixed-race background through an era that is hostile to her and all she represents. It is only through music that she finds the freedom to temporarily escape and dream of a better life for herself, nurturing this hard-won refuge throughout the vagaries of unexpected motherhood and an absent husband, and relying on her talent to build a future for her family.
Orphaned Mahsa also grows up in the shadow of loss, sent to relatives in Pakistan after the death of her parents. Struggling to break free, she escapes to Montreal, leaving behind her first love, Kamal. But the threads of her past are not so easily severed, and she finds herself forced into an arranged marriage. For Mahsa, too, music becomes her solace and allows her to escape from her oppressive circumstances.
When Katherine and Mahsa meet, they find in each other a kindred spirit as well as a musical equal, and their lives are changed irrevocably. Together, they inspire and support one another, fusing together their cultures, their joys, and their losses—just as they collaborate musically in the language of free-form, improvisational jazz.
Under the Visible Life takes readers from the bustling harbour of Karachi to the palpable political tension on the streets of 1970s Montreal to the smoky jazz clubs of New York City. Deeply affecting, vividly rendered, and sweeping in scope, it is also an exploration of the hearts of two unforgettable women: a meditation on how hope can remain alive in the darkest of times when we have someone with whom to share our burdens.
From the critics
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This is a fantastic read, a story of family, friendship, and the power of music. The strong writing and international focus of Echlin’s earlier novels are also found here, creating a captivating read.
Two women, Mahsa and Katherine, are both jazz pianists who create a powerful friendship through their commitment to their art, in the face of all sorts of family ordeals. Both women have had unusual upbringings; Katherine was raised by single mother in 1950s Hamilton, Mahsa was raised by her strict Uncle & Aunt in Pakistan after her parents were murdered. Early on, Katherine married another jazz musician and had 3 children in quick succession; Mahsa is forced into marriage with an older man in her 20s, and has 2 children quickly. Despite their differing backgrounds, Katherine and Mahsa have much in common, including their love for piano.
They develop a friendship through jazz when Mahsa moves back to Montreal with her family, and then meets Katherine in New York. They deal with their roles as mothers, as women in the man’s world of 20th century jazz, and as independent individuals in relationship with their children, lovers, parents, friends and more.
The writing is so smooth, their stories told in counterpoint, it’s like the entire book is jazz. The writing is deep but fast moving and the characters (even the side characters) are all fully drawn and fascinating. Music is the thread that holds together this thoughtful tale of two women’s lives. If you are a music lover or enjoy stories that delve into the deeper issues that shape a life, you will find much to appreciate in this book.
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