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.
Echlin s 2009 novel The Disappeared was shortlisted for Canada s prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize, and her talent is on full display in this lyrical, exciting story of two women and their lifelong relationships with music and with each other. Mahsa Weaver-Najibullah was born in Pakistan to an American father and an Afghan mother. Katherine Goodknow is the product of her Canadian mother s affair with a Chinese migrant worker. Echlin paints difficult early lives for both girls in the 1940s Mahsa s parents are murdered, and Katherine s mother is put in a reformatory for immorality but both girls find solace in the piano, teaching themselves to play as children. Their worlds get closer when Mahsa is sent to Canada to attend university, and these two characters who share so much finally cross paths at a jazz club in New York City. Echlin discusses the sacrifices required from women, and the strength these particular women draw from music. Over and over, Mahsa and Katherine are saved by music, find love through music, and through music "feel the unfurling beauty of the world." Echlin s excellent novel introduces two complex women who sometimes succeed and sometimes suffer, and whose stories are moving from start to finish.