Friday Reads – Under the Visible Life by Kim Echlin 

I really enjoyed this book – a slow-burning novel that gradually pulls you in through the beauty of its writing and the depth in its characters. 

It follows the lives of two young women from childhood – Katherine and Mahsa. Both are half American, half “something else”, both love music, but there the similarities end, at least superficially. Mahsa, half American, half Afghan, is brought up in Pakistan until something horrific happens to her family, leaving a mark on her that will shape her choices throughout her life. Katherine, half American, half Chinese, is brought up in 1950s Hamilton, never knowing her father.

At a young age, Katherine joins a jazz band and from this point, the rhythm of jazz runs through the book. Mahsa discovers jazz while at university in Canada, discovering freedoms well beyond any her strict Pakistani family allowed her.

The book covers focuses on the topics of female friendship and individuality, but covers themes of family, love, race, poverty, drug addiction, forced marriage, the power and harm of secrets, America in the 50s, 60s and 70s, and of course the jazz music scene. It follows the two main characters throughout their lives, their successes and  failures,their loves, their worry for and pride in their children. The story is told through the viewpoints of both women, alternating by chapter, and so we come to know them both really well, following their different lives growing up and apart – much of their friendship is conducted through phone calls and secrets abound.

Its often advertised with a tagline along the lines of “if you like music, you’ll love this”. Well, to be completely honest, I have no great love of music – I like it, sure, but I wouldn’t say I am particularly “into” music – and I loved this. It is so much more than just a book about jazz. I would really recommend it! 


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