Under The Visible Life

Paperback | May 31, 2016

byKim Echlin

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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.

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From the Publisher

 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 abs...

Award-winning author Kim Echlin lives in Toronto. She is the author of Elephant Winter and Dagmar’s Daughter, and her third novel, The Disappeared, was nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and won the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award for Fiction. Her most recent novel is Under the Visible Life.From the Hardcover edi...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:384 pages, 8.1 × 5.2 × 1.1 inPublished:May 31, 2016Publisher:Penguin CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143178334

ISBN - 13:9780143178330

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Customer Reviews of Under The Visible Life

Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from Beautiful Thank you to Goodreads and the publisher for a free copy! Under the Visible Life is a beautifully written and often heartbreaking book about family and the power of music. It follows two characters -- Katherine and Mahsa -- from childhood onwards. Their lives intersect and parallel each other, exploring the ways in which jazz music acts as a means of independence, escape, and survival. Like I said, this book is beautifully written. The prose is gorgeous, the lack of quotation marks for dialogue gives everything an intimate and dreamy feel, and the characters are so, so compelling. I particularly found myself drawn into Mahsa's story (and had to take breathers from the book because certain aspects of her story were just so emotionally difficult to read).
Date published: 2016-11-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lyrically and musically fascinating - a wonderful story about two very different women 1940s to present: The story of two women, various moves to new countries and a mix of various cultures – and the one unifying force: Music. The cover and the blurb do not do this book justice in my opinion. This is one heck of a novel and an amazing tribute to all the Mahsa’s and Katherines of this world, to the Jazz greats and to the beauty of language and music. This is also a novel which got me in many powerful ways – the mix of cultures, the struggles and the racial prejudice that follows them through life from one country to the next. The forces that try but luckily fail to keep these women from their true calling and from freedom itself. This was one powerful novel and I also loved the other characters we meet along the way especially the Jazz musicians! I absolutely love jazz and play it myself so to be in a novel with these people was just an amazing experience and really cemented these girls stories for me. What a powerful novel on so many levels and a very clever one too. I got to know the Jazz scene in Montreal very well indeed when I lived there – I practically lived in these clubs so this was a huge huge treat for me to read. These girls should be the ones that people look up to today -role models for the sheer number of struggles an problems that they overcome. It was fascinating to read of the blend of cultures, what it feels like from the girls point of view to feel lost and confused as to where the belong, to have that fear and guilt carried with them. Seen through their eyes, this was a book – no an experience that will stay with me for a long time yet.
Date published: 2016-02-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Compelling and Thought-Provoking One of the most compelling and thought-provoking contemporary stories I've read this year is "Under the Visible Life." It begins with two women, Katherine and Mahsa whose musical aspirations and collaboration fuse their diverse lives and mixed ethnicity into an enduring friendship. In a story of joy and loss, of victory and defeat Kim Echlin explores friendship, love, family and career that brings laughter and tears. Set in an era from the late 40's to the present Katherine and Mahsa's lives are forged in a period of turbulence, intolerance and injustice; a world that shook under the violence of black segregation and the civil rights movement, the war in Vietnam, by the kidnappings of the Front de libération du Québec in Montreal and terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan. From mixed races Katherine and Mahsa suffer the anguish of loss as children, the pain of a separation and a forced marriage as adults but through the beauty of the language of music and with hearts that want to share and inspire others they find hope in their darkest hours. In this well-developed plot Kim Echlin writes with insight and powerful emotion that keeps the reader riveted from the first page to the last. The mood of this story is often tense, sombre and discouraging as Katherine deals with an absent husband and raising three children while struggling to further her career. Mahsa, a music student at McGill can't leave the oppressive strictures of her culture behind as she's forced into a loveless, arranged marriage with a man who despises her talent, demanding instead her surrender to a life of invisibility. In their friendship and love of improvisational jazz these remarkable women create an unbreakable bond that brings the light of encouragement and the promise of love, comfort and hope into the darkness of the troubles that swirl around them. Katherine and Mahsa are unforgettable women with complex natures who struggle bravely against the forces that would keep them from their passionate, insatiable and unreasoning desire to create and share the music they love. Mahsa Weaver haunted by the assassination of her parents is an intelligent, superficially obedient and stubbornly determined young woman who escapes the oppression of her family in Karachi to get an education in Montreal. Yet loyalty draws her back into a web of deceit that forces her into a marriage with Ali, a traditional Muslim businessman who demands Mahsa's acceptance, complacency and submission as his wife. With steely, spirited determination she continually thwarts his plans until her daughter's life is used as a pawn to gain her obedience. Her only solace throughout the years is her friendship with Katherine, her music and the memory of the love of her youth. Half Chinese and raised by a single mother after her father's desertion, Katherine Goodnow is a fighter who taught herself to play the piano. A quick study, determined and gutsy musician she finagles a job as a piano player in a band and falls in love with the talented T'Minor (Theodore Lincoln Jones) a restless , moody and angry black saxophone player whose "bottomless pain" drives his drug addiction. Highly independent Katherine valiantly struggles with poverty while blending motherhood with her musical ambition. It is these characters and others that add passion, energy and drama to this haunting tale. "Under the Visible Life" is a fascinating tale of love, joy, pain and sorrow as two women chase the dreams, finding friendship and staying true to themselves. I highly recommend and will read other books by this talented Canadian writer.
Date published: 2015-03-30

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Editorial Reviews

“I lost count of how many times I was caught off-guard by the poignancy of this novel . . . This story of motherhood and friendship, anchored by two extraordinary heroines, will stay with me for a long time.”—Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner“Jazz is blood, bone and spirit in Kim Echlin's wonderful novel. Under the Visible Life is as heady and unexpected as a Coltrane riff, as lush as life itself.”—Esi Edugyan, author of Half-Blood Blues  “[Under the Visible Life] is a love song to music itself.”—The Globe and Mail  “Engrossing . . . the novel carries readers through an impressive cavalcade of personal and societal changes. Echlin is that rare writer who can evoke the joy of playing and listening to music without resorting to overly abstract language or fussy metaphors.”—Toronto Star  “Echlin's musical novel hits the right notes . . . Echlin is a wonderful storyteller, and has created two strong characters who have to battle far too many obstacles trying to live fulfilling lives.”—Winnipeg Free Press  “Echlin . . . delivers a clinic on how to conjure emotions readers didn't even know they had. Not since The Diviners has a Canadian novel explored the complex, messy, and sacrificial nature of creative self-actualization with such skill . . . Readers will revel in every charged scene, every breathtaking reversal, every hard-earned moment of wisdom that this devastating novel delivers . . . This book is nothing short of a masterpiece.”—Quill & Quire (starred review)  “[Echlin's] talent is on full display in this lyrical, exciting story . . . Echlin's excellent novel introduces two complex women who sometimes succeed and sometimes suffer, and whose stories are moving from start to finish.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)   “Her prose is always arresting: plain and vigorous, laconic and sensual, a language of resistance, dreaming of female freedom.”—The Independent    “The sweaty clubs are vividly evoked, the music almost rising off the page. Rather than a study of stardom, the novel turns a spotlight on the jobbing players, the ranks of professional musicians who gamely keep on swinging but who never get the big breaks. It’s all the more effective – and poignant – for that.”—The Guardian